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Romain Angelo Mari

Meet our travelpreneur of the month-Romain Angelo Mari

This month on Bonita on Safari the spotlight is on Romain Angelo Mari.

Romain is a French Travelpreneur and a globe trotter. He co-owns Distant Relatives Eco lodge and Back Packers Kilifi with Thomas Atkinson. You have probably read the post I wrote about this little paradise. If not, kindly check it out here.

Apart from being a businessman and traveler, Romain is a scientist and has Masters Degree in Marine Biology/Ecology and Natural Resource Management. His speciality is in ecotourism,responsible tourism,permaculture,Eco friendly building ,marine environmental consulting and community/conservation project management.(When you go to Distant Relatives, you will definitely see all of these in practice!)

I spoke to Romain about his business, travels,goals and so much more…Enjoy the interview.

1.Out of the 196 countries in the world why Kenya?

Hmm you know what, the more people ask, the less I know what to reply! When travelling down from Ethiopia to Cape Town with friends, we loved the people in Kilifi. We loved the emerald waters, the traditional boats, the beach life, the great fishing and fishermen’s love for reggae! I also felt very free there and everyday was a new and awesome adventure. It just felt like a healthy place to be and Kilifi really needed a place for travelers to stopover. To be honest, also, I wanted some kind of headquarters in the world. And I am not very proud of France, the growing racist conservative right wing, I don’t really feel at home there. I am increasingly ashamed in fact of how many shallow-minded people come from these “developed” countries. So Kenya ticked a lot of boxes basically!

Kilifi
Kilifi
  1. How did you settle on the name Distant Relatives, any meaning behind the name?

Haha! Well Distant Relatives is of course a nod to Nas & Damien Marley. The words “Distant Relatives” struck us with Tom (the other half of Distant Relatives) one night in Cape Town as the most appropriate definition of how a traveler wants to feel when he heads off into the world. You don’t want to feel like a foreign tourist, you want to feel welcome, you want to be part of the family – whatever your age, colour, religion, nationality – we’re all distant relatives! I love the name more than ever!

Distant Relatives
Distant Relatives.
  1. Kenya has been hit hard with major security concerns. How has that affected your business?

True… 2012 was an unfortunate time to launch a new tourism business. It’s been sad for Kenya and for Kenyans. So many have lost their jobs on the coast, so many hotels have shut down and this all had further giant ripple effects on the rest of the economy. We were not spared. But to be honest, we can’t complain, we struggled a lot for sure, but not as much as others. We managed to keep all our employees and we are still in operation so could have been much worse.

Most security problems in Kenya seem to be a straight symptom of corruption, a much bigger problem. I am quite sure that reducing corruption would be most central to tackling security problems. I cannot even start to imagine a solution though seeing the scale of the monster in Kenya though… it’s very scary… but I find it a most interesting topic.

  1. You have practically traveled the whole world, Tell us a bit about that.

I have actually nearly not visited Asia, South America, Middle East, West Africa … there is still so much to see! I was born in the Alps in France and grew up in Paris mainly. Then I lived in the US with my family near Philadelphia for 3 years and moved back to France. Then I moved to Townsville in Australia as an aquarium diver and finished my Bachelor in Brisbane for 2 years after which I did a Masters in Tasmania. I then moved to Galway in Ireland and with Tom, my partner at Distant Relatives in Kilifi, and few other friends, we traveled from Ethiopia to Cape Town for a year overland. Then I lived and worked in Cape Town for while before coming to Kilifi.

Otherwise, I have travelled in Spain, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Belize, UK, Canada, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Mauritius, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Germany, Mozambique, Namibia, New Zealand, Réunion, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, most islands of Caribbean, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and just came back from Norway and Portugal.

The highlights? Uganda, Kenya, Corsica (French Island in the Mediterranean), New Zealand and Norway I would say!

Travel and adventures
Travel and adventures
  1. Tell us about the most bizarre travel incident you’ve ever experienced.

Hmmm… There’s a few… Perhaps this time when we were sleeping on the floor with friends on a street by the sea in Croatia waiting for a morning bus, when I woke up with my girlfriend to the sound of a waterfall right by my head. Turned out to be one of my best friends sleep walking who’d decided to urinate on our pile of backpacks! He went back to sleep as if nothing had happened. Haha, just couldn’t believe it really! We woke him up and he wouldn’t believe us either! Haha it was indeed … bizarre!

  1. Does your frequent travels help improve your business? If yes…tell us how.

Oh for sure… I need the perspective. It’s like oxygen to me, I die slowly otherwise. I need this fresh inspiration and this magical feeling of culture clash. I feel alive and thinking finally again, comparing two different worlds, meeting these radically different people, they fascinate me! Sometimes it’s a bit scary when you realize how many options and lifestyles there are out there in the world. But it allows me to better understand people. I come back full of fresh energy, lucidity and new ideas. Lucidity is very important to me, it makes life so much easier and pleasant for everyone.

 

  1. Does running Distant Relatives as an Eco lodge minimize your operational costs?

Hmm… I have wondered this. To some extent I am sure that yes it does, as we spend less water and hopefully less power than an equivalent hotel our size. We also up cycle and recycle everything we can. But we mainly have the same costs (salaries, taxes, purchases, maintenance, etc). To some extent also, as much as we can, everything is either home-made, eco-friendly and/or on a budget – and such things often require a lot of maintenance and that becomes expensive over time. But I am happy that we never gave up to less Eco-friendly solutions!

Eco friendly bathroom.
Eco friendly bathroom.
Rooms build from locally available materials.
Rooms built from locally available materials.

 

  1. Do you have plans to go for adventures in other counties within the country?

Sure! I am very keen to head back to the Mt Kenya region – hiking along the mountain rivers, lakes, and forests. Otherwise also very keen to go back further explore Kiwayu Archipelago and further up North towards Somalia. I have never been to Lake Turkana otherwise and hope to go there soon with Iolaus (http://www.iolaus.biz/), some awesome Kenyan fishing guides I can only most highly recommend!

  1. What is your favourite local meal?

Beef fry, chapati & mchicha? Or mandazi with mnazi maharagwe? Oh no! Grilled “Giriama Kwesa” (octopus) rolled around a stick above the fire! Kabisa!

  1. Does your business give you a feeling that you are constantly on holiday?

Hah! That’s what people think! Those who know me well know it’s really quite the opposite. I find it hard to feel on holiday at work… It’s a bit annoying but I imagine it’s every caring business owner’s problem!

  1. What projects are you currently working on?

All kinds really, an endless list! Right now we are planning all the details of our big event Kilifi New Year (https://www.facebook.com/events/504864269719570/). I am also working closely with Barefoot Solutions (http://www.barefootsoulutions.com/) on our soon upcoming Permaculture Design Course from 17th to 29th October (https://www.facebook.com/events/293687144314591/). Otherwise nothing very exciting – searching for a new silent generator, hiring new staff, learning how to use InDesign, trying to get through mountains of emails, plenty of marketing and new partnerships, accounting… It really feels like there is no end!

Permaculture Design Course
Permaculture Design Course.
  1. Are you a bathroom singer?

Haha! I am bathroom beatboxer! Honestly, the world’s much better off without me singing!

  1. What do you do when you are not running your business?

Often it’s sailing, but ideally? I try to go into the wild. To find the deep pure wild… with whom harmony feels like the ultimate fulfillment. I have only found it once, in northern Finland, 300km above the arctic circle, on a hike for a week with a friend… pure magic!

Sailing...
Sailing…
  1. How many pages does your passport have? How many times have you renewed it?

Not as many as you think! I had one page left on my last one before it expired. Recently I have actually become really good at losing passports which keeps them nice and stamp-free!

  1. Toughest business decision you’ve ever made.

I can’t remember any decision tougher than another… Maybe they’re all a bit tough? Signing the sales agreement for the property in 2012 was like signing-up for a monumental debt as well as being officially anchored and tied to Kilifi – that was scary. Thanks to George Gasston for the daily bear hugs I needed to be reassured!

  1. What are you reading now?

Haha – I am reading an awesome book “Mes Bateaux et Moi”… Actually quite sad to be finishing it tonight. It’s the autobiography of Eric Tabarly, a French sailor whom I have always admired, I have known his boats since I was a kid – he revolutionized the world of sailing between 1960 and 1998 when he sadly fell overboard in the Irish Sea and drowned. That guy never gave up, always pushed his limits beyond the imaginable, he had so much hope in the boats he designed, built and sailed, in his team and the new sailing techniques he was developing. He never had any money because his decisions and inventions were too radical, too revolutionary. But he beat every sailor of every nation at all the competitions he joined – solo around the world, transatlantics, you name it. He beat the best and the richest passing the finish line once 10 days before the second boat in the race. What he invented/ developed singlehandedly were some of the most central elements of modern sailing. He even built a trimaran that would lift itself above the water on foils, the “Hydroptere”, the world’s fastest sailing boat – it can sail faster than 100km/h… imagine! I love these stories of people that remind you to always believe in your dreams, never give up, and give it 200% of your energy! Don’t let anything discourage you. Forward!

'Mes Bateaux et Moi'
‘Mes Bateaux et Moi’     (Image courtesy:Internet)
  1. What is the worst client experience you’ve ever had?

Racist people? And violent people? But violent people are usually drunk and dumb. Racist people are just disgusting… I have a deep hatred for racism. Luckily we have only had two incidents in 5 years but that’s the worst for me.

  1. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Good question… I’m not too sure exactly yet. I’d love to show people a bit of light on how backwards everything is in our world. From environmental issues to social acceptance. It feels like people are going blinder everyday. They’re all such basic simple things and they do have very simple solutions. I’d love to do something that goes far beyond running a business. Distant Relatives does go beyond that but I would love to be part of something a bit more meaningful, let’s see! I definitely want to live somewhere wild, with awesome people, and believe in our craziest dreams, however naïve or impossible!

 

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Awesome people

 

lamu2-063bw
Awesome people.
  1. Favourite part of your current job?

Sitting in the garden after work, after the first rains, watch the plants take off, breathe and grow! Otherwise, in the lounge or garden, I love seeing the magic happen, when everyone mixes, gets along, people who didn’t know each other one hour ago – like distant relatives meeting for the first time! That’s always a real pleasure!

Distant Relatives
Distant Relatives.

 

Distant Relatives.
Distant Relatives.

 

  1. Who is the best in the world at what you do?

Woohoo! This is a great question! It’s a very easy one too. Her name is Kim Whitaker. She initially founded 33 South Backpackers (http://33southbackpackers.com/) and recently very successfully founded a mighty new project: a series of “All-Star Hotels” across Southern and Eastern Africa with 4 other clever and creative young entrepreneurs. Once in Cape Town (http://onceincapetown.co.za/) opened in 2013 and Once in Johannesburg (http://onceinjoburg.co.za) is opening November 15th this year. She won the Entrepreneur of the Year in South Africa in 2015! But beyond the awards and successes, she has this rare and rather unique blend of lucidity, creativity, boundless energy and simple logic that never quite ceases to amaze me! She’s a queen!

 

 

Well…There you have it! Don’t you feel like stopping over at Distant Relatives to say hi to this great guy!

Here are some beautiful pictures of Distant relatives and Romain…

Distant Relatives by the night.
Distant Relatives by night.

 

The inside of one of the bandas.
The inside of one of the bandas.

 

Gift shop.
Gift shop.

 

Oh you should taste the food from Distant Relatives!
Oh you should taste the every chef’s delight from Distant Relatives!

 

We are all Distant Relatives.
We are all Distant Relatives …aren’t we?

 

Romain the minister!
Romain the Minister!

 

I know who will officiate my wedding :-)
I know who will officiate my wedding 🙂

 

Check out Distant Relatives facebook for the biggest New year celebrations! you can't possibly miss out on that.
Check out Distant Relatives Facebook page for more details on  the biggest New year celebrations! You can’t possibly miss out on that.
Creek love!
Creek love!

NB: All photos used belong to Romain Mari.

 

With love…

Bonnita-logo-revised-350px

 

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Meet Laura Lazzarino,The Argentinian Globe Trotter.

During my recent trip to the coast for my birthday, I had a unique opportunity to meet Laura. How we started off was simple, we were cooking up a storm with our new friends J and Ferdinand. Ferdinand was so curious about the octopus meal that everyone was so excited about. Ugali was also in the menu.Across the swimming pool at Distant Relatives rumours quickly spread that we were preparing octopus meal and ugali. Soon after our guest list swelled. Part of the guests was one Laura. As we got to know each other and shared our travel experiences, one of my friends called out my name to ask what amount of water was enough for our Ugali…Quickly Laura picked the name and asked with a lot of excitation, “Is this Bonita? Bonita on Safari?” She went ahead to say how she found the blog useful especially a blog post I wrote about Kilifi and Distant Relatives, as they say, the rest is history…

We caught up again during her stop over in Nairobi with her boyfriend Juan as they headed to Nyahururu and here is how our interview went  as she got to tell me more about herself and her travel experiences across the globe.

Me: Who is Laura?

Laura Lazzarino (31) is an Argentinian travel writer and the free spirit behind www.losviajesdenena.com; a personal travel blog which has been active online since the year 2008. My adventures across 50 countries has inspired a new generation of independent travelers. I am also  a National Geographic Viajes Magazine contributor and author of two travel books, including the best-selling Caminos Invisibles. Right now I am crossing Africa overland, from Cairo to Cape Town, looking for new stories to be featured in my next book.

Is this your first time in Kenya?

Yes!

Me:How does Kenya compare to your country? What are some of the similarities, and obvious differences?

L:Well…some landscapes remind me a lot of Argentina, but only for a moment. When a colorful bird or a giraffe appears in the picture, then I know I’m not home! Nature is overwhelming here, people and their traditions are different too. But I think we have something in common; we are friendly and we love visitors.

Me:How do you decide on the places you visit when you go to foreign countries?

L:We read a lot. We investigate, surf the web for hidden spots, plan an itinerary. But we are flexible too and always open to last-minute changes, or recommendations on the spot.

Me:How many countries have you visited so far?

L:Fifty, including Antarctica.

Me:How long have you been travelling for?

L:I started travelling eight years ago, but it was not full time. In 2010, I decided to make my passion my lifestyle. I’ve been traveling and writing ever since.

Me:How do you afford your travels?

L:Mostly, by selling my books online. In 2013, I self-published “Caminos Invisibles” a book about our 36,000Km  hitch-hiking trip through South America. After that, I published a Hitch-Hiking Guide to a Spanish publishing house and other projects. Also through collaborations with travel magazines like Revista Viajes de National Geographic.

Me:What inspires your travels?

L:Cultural differences,their challenges and new scenarios, I like how every travel changes me and the lessons I pick on the road.

Me:Did you plan to travel the world and write about it or it just happened by chance?

L:I never really planned it, but I would be lying if I  said I have never dreamt about it. I just did not think it was possible, at least for me…a simple girl from the countryside, with no contacts, no influences and no experience. It was not easy at first. I had to knock on so many doors, to learn a lot and work for free. But it was totally worthy it! I would have missed a lot if I never gave it (and myself) a chance!

Me:What are some of the highlights in your travels?

L:Before visiting Africa, sailing to Antarctica was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had. Now I have to say that watching free wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania is also something I will never forget. Hitchhiking in Iceland, getting lost in small Colombian villages in the Coffee Axis and looking for my great grandfather’s town in southern Italy would complete the list.

Me:Do you have any life lessons picked along the way?

L:One of the first times I hitch-hiked in Argentina, I met a truck driver who, after carefully listening to my story (I had just given up my job to start traveling and was so full of doubts) told me: “Never regret what you have chosen for your life”.

Me:Do you ever get homesick?

L:Who doesn’t? But tech has shortened distances, right?

Me:What is the longest you have stayed without going home to your family?

L:Fifteen (15) months. It was too much. Not only because of my family, but also for myself. I learnt that after one year of traveling, I lose interest. I get tired and I get to appreciate more a good kitchen and a hot home shower than a new adventure, landscape or story. This is when I go home to get the travel excitement back.

Me:Have you ever been in a situation abroad when you feel like your life is in danger? If yes, how did you overcome?

L:Not really, but I got robbed in Venezuela and was harassed in Egypt. It was not nice, of course, but I always keep in mind that those are random situations which can  even occur back home and that if I leave, then I will always have a bitter memory that might be unfair judgement to the people of that country. So I taught myself to get over it by taking time off,chilling out, not thinking about it and then go for that adventure again.

Me:What are some of the challenges you’ve gone through as a foreigner abroad?

L:I think that interacting with cultures where women take up most responsibilities in the society is always a shock. I can’t help but wonder why I, on the other side have so many opportunities and choices yet they don’t…if we were to be the same.The other Challenge is learning how not to judge,especially when you are confident with your principles.However, I think it is good practice.What we consider “normal” is just a convention. I have learnt to appreciate what I have more and also to question some statements that I have always considered to be true.

Me:What is in your bucket list?

L:I have a bucket list of over 50 items! Just to name some: Fly in a hot air balloon, participate in a flash move dance, camp in Lake Turkana, visit Christmas Island and  live in Colombia for a season.

Me:What are some of the things you’ve checked out of your bucket list?

L:Cutting my hair drastically (I even wrote a post about it, it was so empowering) and paragliding (so exciting)!

Me:Do you miss normal life?

L:Not at all. This is the best I could do with my life, the best decision I have ever made. I don’t regret it, not even in the bad moments of traveling, not even for a single minute.

Me:Airbnb or couch surfing?

L:Both. I like balance. Please add  camping to the list too!

Me:How do you balance life and travel?

Laura!

L:Traveling is my life…

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