Very Hungry Nomads – that’s the name of Martina and Rachel’s blog and their hunger is as much culinary as it is their inborn curiosity and desire to explore everywhere! Today, Martina talks to us about their time on the road.
Martina, tell us something about your early years and how your love of travel developed.
Growing up as a kid in Central Europe I always felt an urge to learn about places that were different to home, as you can imagine there was very little diversity at that time. I remember reading about the Mayans and Aztecs, fascinated by their stories and imagining what it would be like to live during those times. My love for books, history and geography in some ways formed my very first bucket list – but I don’t think we called it that. But it was only after 1989 and the fall of the system that I could suddenly consider opportunities that only the generation before me didn’t have. While my grandfather spoke 6 languages and was well-travelled, travelling the world as I do now was unthinkable for most Slovakians.
You grew up in Slovakia, which was transitioning from the old socialist system. Do you have vivid memories of those days and how, if at all, do you believe you have been influenced by this? What, in fact, does it mean to be Slovak? And once we are at it, tell us a few gems of Slovakia that most travellers don’t know?
I was born in 1981, which means I was only 9 when Czechoslovakia transitioned into a new democratic system after the Velvet Revolution. Since my parents were very much part of the young outspoken generation that fought for this change I always thought of the Revolution as a good thing. In fact, I remember my dad coming home after the demonstration – with a set of keys which was used by most people to simply make a noise in the main squares and form a unified voice of the country to force the government to step down peacefully. I was just about to become a pioneer (similar to boys scouts in the communist’s states) and I was quite upset that this wouldn’t be happening. My mum simply said I will be able to buy jeans and I thought somehow that was a better deal.
I think naturally many people were influenced by the Velvet Revolution and while the ’90s turned out to be one of the hardest decades to live through for many – adapting to a new system. It felt like someone has given you the parachute but without the instructions and pushed you off the cliff… and we were all hoping we can figure out how to use it before we crash and burn. But we got there eventually, but I think Slovaks still need a little bit more optimism to realise that life is better at home than they think.
What does it mean to Slovak? That’s a tough question to ask and I think most of Slovaks would struggle to answer and define our identity. In general, I believe we are very hospitable people, once you get past the directness that you often hear in English in Central European accents. We loved to host visitors with food and if you ever visit – the key is to meet locals and be welcomed in. We also have a love affair with the mountains – I am sure anyone who has visited the High Tatras or Slovak National Park could see that. We seemed to be laid back about things in politics. However, I was proud to see the country stand up as one, following the killing of a young reporter and his girlfriend in 2018. Not only did this murder shake the nation, but we were also able to pull together once again and force the government to step down. An investigation into the murder has been launched. Slovaks have just elected a 40-something divorced woman, a lawyer with very liberal views as our new president with no political experience at all. It shows that this quite Catholic and traditional nation is keen to leave corruption behind and embrace the pro-liberal and pro-European views.
As for tips in Slovakia – try to visit the more rural places and eat the typical food “bryndzove halusky” in a typical farm style restaurant called Salaš usually found near the mountains. Try Korbáčik – a hard string cheese interwoven into fine braids. There are also many castles to see – some see very few tourists – mostly locals such as Orava Castle or even the Devin castle near Bratislava.
You travel together with your friend Rachel. Do you feel it is a plus or a minus for world travel to be two women travelling together?
Travelling as a woman is definitely different than travelling as a man, I think we would all agree on that. But being a woman can be an advantage. While many men have told me that I won’t be able to enter or join certain parts of everyday life in certain countries as a woman, they are forgetting that they will never be allowed to join other areas reserved only for women. For example, we were invited to lunch in a typical Afghan house. Of course, only women were present. So we ate together, talked about education and what their life was like under the Taliban and how it, in fact, left a generation of women illiterate due to their 3 years in Mazar-I Sharif. Our new friend told us her story and he dreams while breastfeeding comfortably in her chair surrounded by trinkets from the Afghan past. And then we danced…. together, right there in the living room. Another time we were invited to join a group of women and kids in the Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan – no men would be allowed. Food was shared, laughs were had and we still consider it the highlight of our time there.
Also, we seem to find help anywhere anytime. Our transport has broken down multiple times in Africa, and we were always able to hitch a ride with anyone. Quite frankly, when 2 women in the 30’s approach anyone anywhere in the world – people trust them instantly and are happy to help. I also think that women have great intuition, which helps when travelling. They feel when something is off and might be less reckless in their behaviour. I actually think 2 women travelling together is the best travel combo there is, but of course, I could be biased here. lol
You are very prolific online, with your blog Very Hungry Nomads. Tell us something about managing this blog, the challenges and rewards of this.
Running a full blog and social media while working on the logistics to visit every country on usually very unreliable Wi-Fi is a constant struggle. As we are travelling on a very low budget of $50 per day, this complicates things sometimes too as planning is the key. We post almost daily Instastories from our travels, one meal at a time …from very sweaty and dirty 16 hours shared taxis journeys in West Africa, to discovering the Caribbean islands on our own rather than on a cruise ship. We also save our stories on our Instagram profile – so even our new followers can simply re-watch any country-specific story later on. Here is a link to our Instagram profile.
It shows that women too can travel and despite what social media portraits as wanderlust – the cliché pretty girl with a hat overlooking Santorini, Bali or the Eiffel Tower… that there are women who hike, take public transport, sweat, eat street food and in general love the adventure. Inspiring women to travel more is the key to our platform. The idea to visit every country was really born around the fact that there were mostly men who visited every country and almost no women…. Both Rach and I have been working in the travel industry for the past 15 years and at this stage already travelled to over 100 countries, when we decided to set off again to see every country… to do it for the women everywhere and of course to fulfill our dream too.
On another note, our website is a growing project. We certainly added some blogs from our time in Africa, because where else would you find how to get a visa for Burkina Faso in Mali right? Our aim is to add many more blogs to come – some personal stories from our travels and some practical info as well. So do check out the blog if you are a serious traveller. ☺ In an ideal world, we would like to find a way to monetize our website as a place for resources to visit every country that might go beyond the guide book advice. Many of our followers suggested we should write a book and I guess if we were to combine our social posts and videos together we would create a documentary of sorts.
Food obviously plays a very important part in your travels. Any favourite cuisine? Any places where you find it difficult to stomach the local offerings? How do you choose what to eat in your various destinations?
The name of our blog Very Hungry Nomads certainly gives it away; food is a huge part of our travel. Favourite cuisine is hard to pick, but the best countries to visit for food would be Thailand, Mexico, Italy, Japan, Ethiopia, Morocco, Spain, Georgia, Vietnam, Colombia and Lebanon just to name a few! There are a few dishes in China which didn’t leave the best taste in my mouth (quite literally) and personally, food in Central Asia is not very diverse either. West Africa and Central Africa can be also a challenge for any foodie… the purpose of food here is more as an energy rather than as enjoyment or a treat. Having said that we still found some great meals.
The best advice when it comes to food and travel is simple – keep it local and ask where locals eat and what is the best local dish to try and eat it the way they do! We often ask our taxi drivers where to go for dinner or try to find a food blog on food not to miss. I am always surprised to hear of travellers who love to see the world but somehow don’t seem to bother about food – they just stick to sandwiches, burgers and meals in their hotels etc. Food experiences are some of the most memorable moments of my travels: Eating my first street food in Thailand, indulging in Brazilian BBQ and Argentinian steak, spending 3 months in Mexico eating any and every dish I haven’t tried before, slurping that hot goulash soup in Central Europe on a cold day or being introduced to Ethiopian cuisine.
You are trying to get to every country in the world. Do you feel there are sacrifices involved in doing this? Do you miss ‘home’ or not? And what do your friends and family feel about this endeavour?
I’m currently travelling with Rach from Australia and our aim is to visit every country by April 2020. Whilst most people believe that this would cost a world, we are aiming to show that travel can be very enjoyable even with a shoestring budget and no you don’t necessarily have to sleep in a train station and live on tuna cans. But I can admit doing both. I guess some could consider it a sacrifice – I am spending my life savings to fulfil the dream and when finished I won’t own much than a bag full of clothes but I won’t be in debt either. I have left my home country Slovakia 18 years ago and worked on the road as a tour guide for 7 years straight with no permanent address so I am used to be a nomad. I lived in 6 different countries but nevertheless would consider Australia now home as my last 5 years were based here. My family has always been supportive of my travels. My mum has one of those scratch-off maps on the fridge and she calls it travelling with Marty for free.☺ I know she is worried when she knows we are visiting places that are dangerous but ultimately believes that karma is everything.
I am fortunate to have many great friends – most of them worked in the travel industry and are also well travelled, so they are cheering us on too.
Of the places you have been to, which ones have you felt were really rewarding and which ones were most exhausting?
So what are trips do you have planned for the near future?
Yeah, Africa seems to be many travellers Everest. Especially West and Central Africa. After the 150+ countries, this certainly is the toughest part of the world to travel but I say if 2 blond girls can travel across independently with the unpredictable public transport, then so can you. We have posted quite a few blogs from our time – trying to help other travellers as they maybe attempt to travel through. Tips to travel West or Central Africa? Bring tons of patience and be ready to adapt daily. Visas can be obtained en route but they will always be a huge headache and planning your itinerary according to visas is the key. Sadly this part of the world sees a lot of corruption and we were stopped at many borders by guards who would come up with some trivial problem, which could only go away with bribes. We managed to make it all the way from Morocco to Angola without paying a bribe – but these stories alone could fill a book and we shared most of them of our posts as head-ups for other travellers. To get an idea on West Africa – here is our handy blog – 17 Things to know before travelling to West Africa.
So what’s in store for the two of you travel-wise for the next few months?
The plan is to spend a few months in Europe working as a tour guide to earn a little bit of money as our travels in Africa left a huge gap in our budget. Then we will be heading back to Africa, there are still a few gems to see (Libya, Sudan and Eritrea), then onto Syria and Yemen and we should be finishing up on the Pacific islands.
And our signature question – if you could invite any four people from any period in human history to dinner, who would you invite and why?
That’s a tough question again. Here are a few:
Maria Theresa – A women that seemed to shape the history in Central Europe more than a handful of men. Her law to make basic education compulsory in the Austria-Hungary Empire has single-handedly shaped the literacy of multiple countries in this region. And she managed to have 16 kids.
Anthony Bourdain – There aren’t many people on the TV that combine the lust for food and travel and are great at storytelling the way A.B was. Dinner and a chat with this guy would surely be fun.
Ernest Shackelton – I found his story of survival really captivating, especially after my trip to Antarctica. I think he would have some great untold stories.
Frida Kahlo – To chat about everything Mexican, art and feminism. She has become a symbol across the world now for women in general, but it would be interesting to hear her point on everything.
Marty and Rach in North Korea