Running down Mt. Kilimanjaro

by Diana Kilby (a 2011 Tanzania roadmonkey)

My ascent of Kilimanjaro is something that some people can relate too; but my descent is something that few people have seen or experienced.

Kilimanjaro mountain man: Melchior, our outstanding lead guide.

I decided I would run down the trail to the main gate, the day after the Roadmonkey team had summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had asked a couple of my fellow teammates to join me but only our co-leader, Pierre, decided to join me in my descent to the bottom of the mountain. After packing up camp, in the upper tier of Kilimanjaro’s rainforest, Pierre and I were about to take off down the trail when our lead guide, Melchior, appeared. He would have to accompany us down the mountain, he explained, as clients were not able to arrive at the main gate without their mountain guide.

Melchior, I should explain, is a man of some years and experience. He is a grandfather, and on the day he joined Pierre and me, he was descending Kilimanjaro for the 55th time. Whether running to the bottom seemed to him like a sensible thing to do is impossible to say. It was enough that two of his clients wanted to run for Melchior to become a runner that morning, and to join us, stride for stride, with the same grace and quiet confidence with which he had guided us to the summit the day before.

When we left camp, the trail was dry and wide and the three of us were able to run comfortably side by side together.  As we descended the trail, the conditions around us changed. The vegetation became a dense canopy of overhanging branches and it started to rain. The trail became very slippery as wet clay clogged the treads of our shoes.  As we stopped talking to concentrate on the trail conditions, we started hearing sounds coming from behind us. All of sudden, porters appeared with packs (many of them large and clanking with pots & pans) on their heads running up behind us and passing us as if we were walking.

To avoid us, they had to jump over logs and dodge rocks.

On Kilimanjaro, one sees the latest and best in technical footwear, almost all of it on the feet of western hikers.  The porters, who climb and descend the mountain carrying as much as 50 pounds of luggage on their heads, wear an assortment of discarded, donated or borrowed boots, shoes, runners and sandals.

One porter ran past us and had to go around a stump. His flat, treadless shoes were unable to take the corner. As he started falling down and his load slid off his head, he executed a remarkable, impromptu act of physical grace: Instead of coming to a stop to regain his balance, he put out his left hand to catch himself, touched the ground briefly, and then, in the same moment, grabbed the duffle, placed it back on his head and kept running without missing a step.

The author, in orange top & white cap, celebrating with mountain guides & porters on the path she ran down, one day after summiting Kilimanjaro.

One reason I chose Roadmonkey for our trip was the confidence that a company dedicated to adventure philanthropy would strive to treat our porters well.

But while I watched this porter recover from his fall, on a wild descent under the watchful eyes of my own guide, I realized that I was also lucky enough to witness first-hand the strength, agility and dedication of a proud people and understand the effort put into sharing their mountain with the world. That connection, brief but unforgettable, is part of what it means to me to be a Roadmonkey.

  Diana Kilby, in addition to being a 2011 Tanzania roadmonkey, is a special education teacher in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. When she’s not working with children with developmental disabilities, you can find her in the B.C. backcountry, mountain biking, trail running or skiing with her partner, Bruce.





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One Birthday Wish I Could Do Without

 by Paul von Zielbauer

On Wednesday, Aug. 28, I had a birthday.

It was a nice birthday. I received dozens of emails and messages from friends and family. And then I got this from a bank called CapitalOne 360:

from:  Capital One 360 <>
to:  Paul <>
date:  Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 2:24 AM
subject:  Happy Birthday from Capital One 360!


Dear Paul,
Customer Number: XXXXXXXXXX
Capital One 360

Happy Birthday Saver.

They say age & money are two things you’re never
supposed to ask about. So we’ll just be polite and say:
Happy birthday, Saver. Here’s to being another
year older and savings-wiser.
Happy birthday, Saver.


The information contained in this e-mail is confidential and/or proprietary
to Capital One and/or its affiliates. The information transmitted herewith
is intended only for use by the individual or entity to which it is
addressed. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient,
you are hereby notified that any review, retransmission, dissemination,
distribution, copying or other use of, or taking of any action in reliance
upon this information is strictly prohibited. If you have received this
communication in error, please contact the sender and delete the material
from your computer.


First, I should disclose that I have a visceral and growing dislike of banks and what I consider their increasingly obscure, manipulative schemes to nickel & dime consumers of their savings, one stupid additional fee at a time.

I should also disclose my account with CapitalOne 360 has had less than $2 in it for several years now.

Those disclosures aside, this email seemed one step too far (maybe it was the confidentiality waiver at the bottom of the “happy birthday” email?). After a few minutes of marinating, I decided to fight back against corporate insincerity, with two simple words:


from:  paul von zielbauer <>
to:  “” <>
date:  Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 9:37 AM
subject:  Re: Happy Birthday from Capital One 360!


   Unsubscribe ASAP.


Within a day I received a form-letter reply from CapitalOne 360, an institution prone to pumping out metric tons of insincere marketing schlock disguised as “Hey, we’re your friends – woo-HOO!”

The reply, alas, turned out to be Version 1 of How To Unsubscribe From Email Lists We Put You On Without Your Consent:


from:  Sales <>
date:  Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 6:54 AM
subject:  Re: Happy Birthday from Capital One 360! (Inquiry ID:3506169)


Don’t want to be penciled in our mailing list? If you’re an existing
Customer or were a Customer in the past (including with ING DIRECT), please
call 1-888-464-0727, and we’ll be happy to erase your name from our mailing
list. Associates are available from 8 AM – 8 PM, 7 days a week.

If the above doesn’t apply to you, just respond with your mailing address
and your zip code. Once we have this info, we’ll remove you from our
mailing lists.


Capital One 360
Member FDIC
Equal Housing Lender


First of all, “Hi”? Second, if I want to opt out of email marketing messages, I have to send you my mailing address?

This letter from “Jessica” seemed even more manipulative than the original birthday message. So, out of a sense of adventure, I wrote “Jessica” a cordial but firm reply:


from:  paul von zielbauer <>
to:  Sales <>
date:  Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 10:04 AM
subject:  Re: Happy Birthday from Capital One 360! (Inquiry ID:3506169)

Hi Jessica,

Why do I need to give you my mailing address for you to remove me from an
email list that I never signed up for?

I have asked you to please remove me from the email list and I expect that
you will, ASAP, pls.

I do not want further birthday or other non-urgent emails.



“Jessica” then sent me v. 2 of How To Unsubscribe From Email Lists We Put You On Without Your Consent:


from:  Sales <>
date:  Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 7:59 AM
subject:  Re: Happy Birthday from Capital One 360! (Inquiry ID:3506169)

Hi Paul,

You can change your email privacy setting online at any time. Just follow these steps:1. Sign in to using your Customer Number or Saver ID and PIN
2. Click the ‘My Info’ tab and select ‘Preferences’
3. Click the ‘Privacy’ tab then select ‘Change’
4. Choose either ‘Allow’ or ‘Don’t Allow’
5. Hit ‘Save’
You can view our Privacy Policy online any time by visiting


Please know that, at this time, you’re unable to cancel birthday emails.


Capital One 360
Member FDIC
Equal Housing Lender


Note the last sentence: “…At this time, you’re unable to cancel birthday emails.”

In other words: We’ll pretend to be your friend by offering insincere birthday wishes. But we won’t stop pandering if you ask us to – who do you think you are, anyway?

In full curmudgeon mode now, I again wrote “Jessica” (who had become simply “Jess” in previous note):


from:  paul von zielbauer <>
to:  Sales <>
date:  Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 1:25 PM
subject:  Re: Happy Birthday from Capital One 360! (Inquiry ID:3506169)

Dear Jess,

The bank’s policy of not allowing its customers to opt out of receiving blatantly insincere marketing ploys disguised as birthday wishes is outrageous.

(Question: What kind of birthday greeting comes with a confidentiality waiver attached to it? Answer: Your bank’s kind.)

I’ll also be closing my account and trusting my $1.58 with another, less insincere bank, if I can find one. If I want to deal with selfish policies masquerading as “customer service” I can go to Bank of America.

Have a great day! (Really, I mean it.)



Yes, I was a bit snarky to “Jess.” No, she didn’t write back again. (And she almost certainly trashed my message without a second thought.) But I just couldn’t help it.


I decided to call the 888 number that “Jess” told me would help me remove myself from all further marketing emails….except birthday emails.

I got an automatic answer from a really happy male recorded voice: “Hi Saver! Thanks for calling CapitalOne 360!”

Then I was then connected to a live person, who said, “Hi, I’m Jasmin, how can I save you money?”

Me: “I don’t want to save money. I just want to unsubscribe from all emails, including future birthday emails.” After checking my identity, etc., Jasmine said she removed me from all of the bank’s email lists CapitalOne 360 has – including the birthday email.

So, who’s right: Email Jess or Telephone Jasmine? We’ll find out on Aug. 28, 2014.



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A Peru Adventure Travel Experience ‘One Notch Up’

by Andrea Guzman

In early 2011, I found myself in need of a challenge – I wanted to travel, see something gritty and real and also give back in a meaningful way. One day, flipping through Oprah magazine in a doctor’s office, I saw an article on Paul von Zielbauer, the Roadmonkey founder, and his transition from New York Times journalist to world-exploring social entrepreneur.

The article described the kind of challenge I’d been seeking – one notch up from my typical adventure, which is running marathons. It made me think, “I really need to try something more.”

The author on expedition in southern Peru.

I sent an email to Roadmonkey asking for an invitation to the Peru expedition. A couple days later, I was talking by phone with Paul himself about the Peru trek. A few months later, in July, I was flying to Cusco to start my Roadmonkey adventure.

I spent 4 nights camping along the deep canyons of Peru, rafting by day down some pretty cutting rapids. It was physically invigorating to disconnect from work, email and my rigorous schedule and reconnect with Andrea – me.

I liked learning new skills, like setting up camp on the sandy beaches in the canyon of the Apurimac River; learning to paddle our raft through Class III and IV rapids as a team, with people I had just met; and shaking out scorpions – small, green, non-poisonous – from my wet suit each morning.

But I’d signed up for the Peru expedition because of the volunteer project: we took 3 days to build a first-time playground for indigenous Quechua school kids in Ollantaytambo, two hours from Machu Picchu. That was an incredibly meaningful way to spend part of my vacation.

Adventure volunteer: The author doing her part on the playground build in Peru.

I’d do it all again. This expedition really challenged me, personally, professionally, philosophically, emotionally. And I’m no frail office worker. I’ve run 27 marathons, and adventure is a lifelong passion.

The Peru trip also gave me a perspective – on myself, my career and the world I live in – that I couldn’t have gotten taking a conventional adventure trip. It made me realize, for example, that I’m in the right career.

It also showed that no matter how much time or money we have, or don’t have, we can make a difference. It just takes going the extra step to transform the urge into action.

I flew home from Cusco, the charming capital of the Inca empire, recharged. I’d met a fantastic group of people. Our efforts absolutely have made a positive impact (see the video below). And it confirmed my desire to create a personal tradition of taking real adventures that I can share with my friends.

So, here’s to more Roadmonkey travel!

2 years later: The playground Andrea & her Roadmonkey teammates built in Peru.


Andrea Guzman works for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, in Geneva, Switzerland. Previously, she spent 8 years in several positions at the United Nations. When not helping developing countries exterminate disease, Andrea runs. She’s completed more than 25 marathons, on her way to completing a marathon in all 50 U.S. States.

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The Art of Surf Stoke in Nicaragua

by Maya Seaman

I grew up in Leucadia, a coastal town near San Diego where surfing is a religion. For me, it started as an alternative to smoking pot or listening to my parents fight. My first board came out of a neighbor’s trash can and my first blister came from walking barefoot to the beach. Paddling through the waves taught me to be strong, to fight discouragement, to persevere.

Learning to ride waves was an exercise in patience, humility, and focus.

The author, kneeling in middle, and her Roadmonkey crew in Nicaragua. (All photos courtesy of Maya Seaman)

Eventually I was rewarded with the unadulterated rush of racing down the face of a wave, my chest pumping with what surfers call “stoke” — a singular mix of meditative calm and adrenalin joy. Riding a wave, be it 3 feet or 13 feet, is a humbling, beautiful experience, and after a time the ocean became my teacher, friend and second home.

When I became a land-locked Portlander three years ago, I felt a little empty. As beautiful as Portland is, there is no substitute for the Pacific. So when my friend Paul Thibodeau planned an adventure-philanthropy surf trip to Nicaragua through Roadmonkey, I didn’t even bother to check my bank account before packing a suitcase.

When we arrived at the Soma Surf Resort in Las Salinas, I immediately bonded with Soma’s co-owner and surf instructor, Bill Morton. A former Californian, Bill grew up surfing the same breaks as me, and we shared the same enthusiasm for the sport. He proudly showed me his board collection, and gave me the pick of the litter.

Unfortunately, I was the only one in my group with any surfing experience. We went for lessons to a nearby beach called Astillero, where the waves were small and broke near shore. Learning to surf involves more flailing and falling than actual wave riding, so it was safer for people to learn in the shallow whitewash.

Roadmonkey expedition team members learning to surf in Nicaragua.

Paul tried standing on his first wave and immediately fell. His friend Todd took off on a larger wave, nosedived his board before he could stand, and face-planted into the water. Both of them emerged with a huge smiles. Success, in surfing, is measured in seconds, and with each wave my friends became more addicted to the challenge of standing on their surfboard just one moment longer, of riding just a little further, and every attempt was met with cheers and encouragement.

Paul Thibodeau catching his first wave.

I had a few short rides, but mostly I helped teach my friends about wave physics and when to paddle. It felt good to be in the water again, but Bill could tell I was more than eager to explore a few miles down the coast, home to one of the world’s most beautiful waves: Popoyo.

Popoyo is a reef break that helped put Nicaragua on the surfer map: a world-class wave with near perfect conditions year round. One night after dinner, during our 8-day Nica expedition, Bill pulled me aside and said that if I were willing to wake up at 4:30 am, he’d take me to Popoyo personally, free of charge.

I was suited up at 4:35.

After a bouncy 20-minute truck ride, the trees parted and I had my first glimpse of Popoyo. Perfectly shaped, five-foot waves rolled into shore; an offshore wind sprayed water off the crests in rainbow-dappled arcs. The ocean shimmered gold in the light of the rising sun.

I remember thinking, “This is my church.”

What’s not to like? The Popoyo surf break on a March morning.

Boards in hand, Bill and I skipped down to the shoreline. I paddled through the channel watching surfers whoop and holler as they rode past me. It had been years since I surfed, and I had never ridden a wave in a foreign country—suddenly I was nervous.

The seabirds were different species than I was used to seeing, and the water had a different taste. As I sat on my borrowed board, waiting for the next set of waves to roll through, I thought about the sharks that were probably swimming beneath me, and how none of the other surfers were speaking English. I realized I was 3,000 miles from San Diego in totally unfamiliar territory.

Bill shouted at me, interrupting my jitters, and pointed toward the horizon. A swell was surging toward us and none of the other surfers were going for it. I turned to paddle. As the peak crashed, it threw me forward down the face and I popped to my feet, engulfed in foam. I pulled out into the curl and heard Bill cheering behind me. Water sprayed in my eyes and my toes dug into comforting feel of the surfboard’s knobby wax. I carved up and down the familiar glassy surface, my nerves a distant memory. At the end of the ride I was overwhelmed with that old, familiar feeling of excitement and relaxation. Laughing, I pitched myself off the board and tumbled into the whitewash below.

I paddled back out to a grinning Bill, who described my ride from his perspective, detailing how I “shot out of the foam like a bullet.” Laughing, he asked if I was stoked. Truth was, I was more than stoked—I was home.

Maya Seaman is a writer with too many hobbies and an insatiable wanderlust. She completed the Nicaragua adventure philanthropy expedition in March 2013. 

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How to Build a Fence With a Machete & Other Lessons

By Maya Seaman

When Reyes Vado decided his garden’s newly built fence needed an access gate, he bent down and grabbed, of course, his machete.

It’s amazing what a machete can do in the hands of an expert like Vado, a typically sweet, wire-framed Nicaraguan who works in a local salt mine. Or the damage this real-life multi-tool might do in the hands of, say, me. During the 2 days I and my Roadmonkey expedition team members helped construct this simple wood-and-wire fence with Vado and other local nicaragüenses — during the volunteer part of our adventure philanthropy expedition to Nicaragua — I came to a deep appreciation of the rusty, decade-old machete’s versatility. Deep enough to make the average gadget-obsessed, Home Depot geek feel awfully like a over-privileged clod.

Have tools, will travel: The Roadmonkey fence-building crew with local Nica folks in Las Salinas.

Low hanging tree branch blocking your doorway? Chop it down with a machete. Pigs getting in your house and snuffling around in your bed? Scare them out with a machete. Need lumber to build a fence? Hack at a tree limb with your machete until it resembles a post.

Within minutes, Vado had shaved a few fallen branches into nearly symmetrical planks of wood, nailed them together to make a sturdy gate and hinged it to our new fence. (And as if genetically coded into all children, Vado’s daughter Yoseiling promptly climbed on it, validating its strength.)

Such was my experience volunteering with Fundacion Aprender, Roadmonkey’s nonprofit partner in Las Salinas, Nicaragua.

Yoseiling climbing on the new fence.

Part of me wondered why I was even volunteering there; clearly all these people needed were raw materials and generations-old Nicaraguan ingenuity—they didn’t need a pasty white girl wearing expensive outdoor clothing that probably cost more than the fence materials, gawking at their natural prowess with a $3 utility knife the size of a baseball bat.

The fence, funded by me and my expedition members, was needed to allow local families to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Without the fence, gardens aren’t feasible because the plants are devoured by livestock. And in Las Salinas, almost no one can afford to spend the $200 it costs to buy fence-building materials to create their own vegetable gardens.

That’s where I and my Roadmonkey team came in. We provided the funding and the hands-on labor to build the fence, and got to know a part of Nicaragua in the process that other travelers never see. You don’t realize what you’ll learn on one of these projects until you’re there, building it, across a language barrier.

What I learned is that my presence in this tiny village meant more than a semi-strong back to help dig post holes and spread chicken wire; it reflected the idea that despite our geographical and cultural differences, we are not all that different—just born under different circumstances. That’s one thing I learned from Gabriela Prado, the founder of Fundacion Aprender, who came to Nicaragua in 2004 after living in New York City.

Originally from Argentina, Gabriela said she envisioned a simple life teaching yoga at local resorts and writing poetry under the mango trees on the farm she bought in Nicaragua. She quickly became a source of entertainment for local children in Las Salinas who couldn’t afford to attend school. Showing up at all hours, the curious children would knock on Gabriela’s door bearing gifts of eggs and fish in exchange for story time with their new neighbor. Gabriela quickly realized the level of poverty in the village was crippling the children’s chance at an education, thus urging her yogi’s heart into the world of non-profit philanthropy.

I and my fellow Roadmonkey volunteers first met Gabriela at the town’s modest library (which she helped build), with her finger stuffed into a bottle of ice water; a scorpion had stung her that morning. She explained that Fundacion Aprender means “foundation to learn” in Spanish, and that her non-profit encompasses more than children’s education initiatives. The organization also sponsors families in need, like Vado’s, donating materials for low cost, sustainable living such as food-bearing plants for gardens, fencing materials, and pasty-white manual labor volunteers like myself.

Using broken Spanish, rusty tools, and the ever-enduring machete, I helped Vado’s family plant enough food to significantly reduce their grocery costs.

“If you trust, and you put your energy in that something will happen,” Gabriela told me, explaining what amounts to her life’s philosophy. “You need to put your hope there, then it will happen.”

At lunch, the families and volunteers sat down over pineapple juice to exchange introductions. After explaining I was a graduate student, a village girl named Aracely admitted her disappointment at never attending university; like many girls in Nicaragua, she got pregnant instead, and is now a single mom. I was impressed with her similar educational ambitions—and saddened by her circumstances. In another life this motivated girl could have been me; we are the same age. At the end of the project I wanted to give more than a fence, but in Las Salinas, a fence can protect years of free food, and the money saved will help Aracely’s son achieve what she never could: improve his life’s circumstances and one day, attend university.

 Maya Seaman is a writer with too many hobbies and an insatiable wanderlust. Stay tuned for her upcoming Nicaragua blog post, next week, about learning to surf.

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Wanted: Web Design Intern

Roadmonkey, the world’s first adventure philanthropy company, is looking for a tech-savvy intern to manage and expand our website,, as well as create and edit short videos for the site. We have an office in Santa Monica, CA, but will consider qualified people based elsewhere who can work remotely.

Roadmonkey combines kickass adventures in nature with hands-on, short-term volunteer projects to create what we call adventure-philanthropy expeditions worldwide. The internship requires the ability to work with Dreamweaver, Photoshop and basic HTML. You would be working with the company founder on specific projects.

Please note: We unfortunately cannot pay cash money but can offer school credits or, for the right candidate, a stipend. Interns who work with us for 6 months or longer are eligible to join one of our international expeditions upon completing the internship (airfare is not included). Please have at least 8 weeks of availability to offer, at 10-15 hours a week.

Previous interns have used their experience with us to, e.g., land full-time jobs at travel and marketing firms and gain admission into competitive software engineering programs.

The successful candidate will need to be a) responsive b) resourceful and c) responsible. Technical brilliance is also great, but if you’re hard to reach or unreliable, we are not interested in you. Also, please have a sense of humor.

For a closer look at who we are, what we do and why what we do matters, please watch this short video

Please reply to

We are an equal opportunity enterprise – except for our sizeable bias against flakes and slackers.

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Travel The World. Meet New People. Slap Them Around.

Have you ever wanted to use a large, pot-bellied man as a musical instrument? You’re not the first.

If that didn’t make you laugh…you have issues.

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On the Road to Sustainability, In Liberia

by Julie Thiery

Last month, I spent two weeks in rural Liberia with the The Niapele Project, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainably improving the lives of impoverished children. 

Rice farmer in Mawah, Liberia. (Photos: Julie Thiery)

I spent most of my time outside of Monrovia, in the town of Handii, in what is known as Lower Bong County. I focused much of my energy engaging with China Union, an iron-ore company located in Bong Mines that recently signed a $2.8 billion contract with the Liberian government. In exchange for mineral rights, China Union promised to create local jobs and help build local infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

Aware of the power the company leverages, The Niapele Project organized an event on July 27thto showcase its work helping local rice farmers increase crop yield and sell more rice in the local community.

China Union representatives seemed to be open to helping this initiative, as an alternative to importing rice from abroad. (They also agreed to buy local seafood for the company cafeteria). But the meeting wasn’t all business.

The day ended in a riveting football match between that pitted The Niapele Project and China Union members on one team against clan elders on the other. The elders kicked ass, 3-0. (A second match was played between the elders and the youth group. The elders – not so old, as it turns out – won again.)

All parties in the community recognized it was a great way to bring everyone together. Proving yet again that the football – the European kind, not the American kind – is one path to eventual world peace.

The elders won both games. They weren’t so old after all.


The women of the bread-baking collective.

In my time there I was also fascinated by the women in Handii, who voiced an interest in creating a breadmaking business, and I was to help make that dough rise – pun fully intended.

Thus, the wife of the Lower Bongo County’s head of development – a woman named Ma Tenneh, who also happened to be my Liberian host mother – and I went to Monrovia to buy tinware and ingredients that the local women would need to begin their enterprise.

Their company, Wilkema (love or unity in Kpelle, the local language), was born as more then fifty women took to their new stoves and made their bread to showcase on the festivities that day. Awesome!

My time in Liberia was invaluable and precious.

So much still needs to be done to build the country up again but it was invigorating to be with The Niapele Project, a 501c3 registered non-profit organization that is based in the United States, that understands that the best gift to impoverished Liberians is to provide tools to allow them to build a sustainable community & economy, from which so much else that is good also follows.

This starts with children – aka the future of the community – being properly and consistently fed and educated, based on programs created and managed by community itself.

Fresh, local and delicous.

Interested in knowing more (or even volunteering one day)? Check out The Niapele Project or send me a line by clicking on my name at the top of this post.

Happy to connect anyone inspired to volunteer.


Julie (aka Bike Attack) Thiery joined the June 2012 Roadmonkey expedition to Vietnam, cycling 300km through the Central Highlands and building a house for a homeless mother & daughter in the Mekong Delta.






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Unlikely Olympians: 4 Athletes Who Beat the Odds

by Cecee McDaniel

Olympic athletes are, in a phrase, amazing people. Their displays of strength, endurance and mental toughness are the reason we watch the human drama that is the Olympic Games. Here’s four Olympians who forged unconventional paths to the London Games:

Bronx baby: U.S. Olympic gymnast John Orozco


John Orozco, 19, is an American gymnast and the 2012 national champion from a background that typically does not suggest a future in elite gymnastics. Where most elite gymnasts come from suburban, middle-class families and begin training as soon as they can walk, Orozco, a dark-skinned Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx, began at the comparatively ancient age of 7, after his father, a sanitation worker, signed him up for a free gymnastics class. He displayed signs of ridiculous talent and overcame the almost clichéd racial prejudices that come with competing in a nearly all-white sport. His coach believed in him so much that he offered to train Orozco without compensation.


A natural(ized) sprinter


Haley Nemra, 22, runs the 800m for the Marshall Islands, after overcoming one huge diplomatic hurdle; namely, that she was born in the U.S. and had never visited the Marshall Islands prior to 2010. A native of Washington state, Nemra would have not qualified for the U.S. team. But her father’s national origin, the Marshall Islands (pop. 68,000), provided a pathway for Nemra to complete as an Olympic athlete. She became a Marshall Islander in 2007. Here’s to creative athleticism!


Plays with pain: Lauren Perdue

Lauren Perdue, a 2012 gold medalist (4x 100 freestyle relay) from Greenville, N.C., qualified for the U.S. swim team with a small piece of bone floating of her vertebrae. A March 3 surgery removed the bone spur, and Perdue, 21, returned to elite form in time to make the Olympic team. Remarkable is her training regimen: She swims 7,000 to 10,000 meters a day, 3.5 hours a day, 6 days a week. Less remarkably, Perdue, who attends the University of Virginia, is also a Twitter maven (@LoPerdue); she recently posted about turning down an invitation from Lebron James to share a meal in the athletes’ dining hall.


Melanie Roach, musclewoman

In my opinion, one of the most impressive Olympians is weightlifter Melanie Roach, nickname Wonder Woman. She’s a wife and mother of five kids who also manages to run her own gym, Roach Gymnastics. Trained as a gymnast until she dislocated her shoulder, Roach, 37, from Bonney Lake, Wash., turned to pumping iron. At 5’1” and 117 pounds, she placed 6th in the 2008 Olympics, lifting 83 kg (183 lbs) in the snatch (a new personal record), 110 kg (242.5 lbs) in the clean & jerk, and a total of 193 kg (425.5 lbs) – personal and American records.

Her gym trains over 500 up & coming weight lifters. She’s taken a sabbatical to give birth to her 5th child, sitting out the 2012 games in London, but has already began training for the 2016 Games, when she’ll be 42 years old. Get it, girl.


As if merely qualifying for the Olympics weren’t a huge achievement, these four amazing athletes have demonstrated the value of fierce loyalty to one’s goals and vision for oneself. And that makes them elite in more than just athletics.


Cecee McDaniel, a student at California State University in Los Angeles, is a Roadmonkey intern.

Posted in Dreaming Big, Smart Risks
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Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro: Tips for a Successful Summit

by Paul von Zielbauer

I’ve led 4 Roadmonkey expeditions to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. It is a huge, and very difficult, accomplishment. Many people ask me how to best prepare for Kilimanjaro success. Read on for a succinct list of my personal recommendations for what to do before and during your Kili hike.

Roadmonkey 2009 expedition member Jolie Altman, at Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro

2009 Roadmonkey Jolie Altman, and her Kili summit shout-out

1. Mental conditioning is key. If summiting is important to you (and it should be) you need to put your body and your mind in a position to succeed. Many people don’t realize the mental challenge that Kili presents. Be mentally prepared for that challenge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched young men from other groups near ours start out on Day 1 preening with bravado in their camouflage gear and smoking cigarettes, only to end up whining by Day 3 about the altitude, about the toilets, about their nausea, about their blisters – blah blah blah. They lacked mental toughness. And they don’t summit.

2. Respect the moutain’s power. Here’s the way I think of it: Disrespecting mother nature will eventually get your ass kicked, big time. In the old days, Tanzanian mothers feared for the lives of their sons who dared to climb Kilimanjaro; such was the respect given to the unforgiving weather and altitude near the cloud-wreathed summit where gods were said to live.  There are no gods at Uhuru Peak, but you’re wise to take the power of nature and altitude extremely seriously. Diamox (or generic version, acetazolamide) helps mitigate altitude sickness.

3. Gear up, the right way. Bring the essential equipment to succeed: comfortable hiking shoes, for obvious reasons; ear plugs, to tune out snorers and wind at night; wet wipes, for a restorative tent “bath” before dinner each night; and a pair of warm wool socks for only sleeping in. Avoid over-gearing yourself. Those who think fancy gear will help them summit are fooling themselves. Nothing beats preparation and a comfortable pair of boots.

4. Sleep with your batteries. Keep your camera and phone batteries in your sleeping bag at night, as they drain rapidly in cold. Or bring a solar charger, which is a great way to keep charged for good photos.

5. Bring non-sugar hard candy. In the dry air above 12,000 feet, your mouth gets dry on the trail. Hard candy or throat lozenges work well. Absent any, place a pebble on your tongue; it keeps your saliva glands active.

6. Prepare for a dusty downclimb. Bring a surgical mask or a bandana to avoid eating and breathing dust on the downclimb. And remember: going down is harder than going up. Your quadriceps muscles and knee joints are in for a test.

7. Have a plan for photo management. Prepare a way to keep your camera within easy reach as you’re hiking each day, so that you have no excuse for not taking a photo when the opportunity presents itself. Some of the best photos are the result of having a camera ready to shoot in an instant. Be ready!

8. Drink a lot (of water). Bring at least two 1-liter high-quality water bottles for your personal daily supply on the trail. Do not re-use spring-water bottles you bought at the store; it’s not a smart alternative. Your drinking water will be boiled each morning and then poured into the bottle you present to the porters after breakfast; you don’t want plastics chemicals leaching into your water supply. (Also: at night, ask your porter to fill your bottle with hot water. A great way to stay toasty in your sleeping bag.)

9. Save your knees. For those with knee or back issues, use hiking poles on the downclimb. Use them to use your upper body as much as possible to relieve the pounding on your lower body. Better to have sore shoulders and arms for a couple days than a wrecked back or throbbing knees for weeks.

10. For women, plan ahead if your cycle will coincide with your time on the mountain. If you experience great discomfort, absolutely do not be shy about telling your guide, who will probably be a man. The guides are incredibly supportive, experienced and dedicated to getting you to Uhuru Peak. And there’s absolutely nothing they haven’t heard before. Help them help you succeed.

The August 2010 Roadmonkey crew, with guides, at Uhuru Peak

11. Learn to love the outhouse. Be prepared for peeing and pooping in wooden outhouses for several days in a row. Sometimes they’re clean; a few may be nasty. There will not be sit-down toilets. Keep a roll of TP in your day pack. Pay attention to your body; you have to keep your GI tract healthy and moving along.

12. Dance. At least once during your Kili climb, you’ll arrive at your camp exhausted from hours of hiking, and the porters, who arrived an hour or more ahead of you, will break out into song and dance to greet you. Don’t be lame and just take photos. Dance with them, too. You only live once.

13. Hang out with your porters. Get to know a little bit about your unbelievable Tanzanian support team: Not just the guides but also the porters. Porters are the Ironmen of Kilimanjaro. They will outpace you, at altitude, while carrying 50 pounds of gear on their necks, treading in battered sneakers (aka trainers for our British friends) that have the soles falling apart. Few speak English, so ask your lead guide to translate your thoughts and questions into Swahili.

14. Avoid kid beggars. Reward kid entrepreneurs. On your final day, after summiting, you’ll walk 3 hours through a rain forest back to the gate where you’ll end your Kilimanjaro journey. Near the end, small boys may emerge from the forest to beg for “chocolate,” or your water bottle, or the carabiners dangling from your pack. Don’t do it. It’s not the kind of cultural exchange you want to perpetuate. Once at the gate, however, a legion of young entrepreneurs will offer to wash your very muddy boots while you wait for your guide to claim your summit certificates. I recommend paying $2 or $3 to get your boots scrubbed. It feels great, it helps the local economy and everybody wins. So keep some dollars, euros or Tanzanian shillings on hand.

15. Tip fairly and clearly. Show your guides and porters some love with a tip that rewards the infinite patience and energy that got you to Uhuru Peak. But make sure to present the tips openly & in front of porters and guides alike, so there is no dispute over who gets how much. A few guides at some outfitters have been known to demand a percentage from porter tips, as a kickback of sorts. That shouldn’t happen.

Hopefully, these tips will help you prepare and relax for a wonderful Kilimanjaro experience. Don’t forget to visualize standing on the roof of Africa. Keeping that visual will help you get there when you’re barfing up breakfast onto your shoes on summit day.


Posted in Adventure Philanthropy, expeditions, Kickass Exploring
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