Wanderlust |Travel Photographer Evan Grant Novis

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 9.32.54 AM A few weeks ago I met travel photographer Evan Novis at an art opening. We exchanged cards, and when I got home and actually looked at his site I was touched by his photos and wanted to share them with you. I’ve written about “travel” vs “vacation” before and that deep ache they call wanderlust. That desire to just be free and alone in a new place, and how travel moves and changes you. It makes the world feel big and small and you both hugely important and completely insignificant. It changes your perspective, and hopefully that perspective stays with you in some small way, for a little longer than your tan. Anyway, Evan’s photography, and his journey, are both beautiful and moving in exactly that way. Do you ever have that feeling that you want to just toss off all of your self imposed responsibilities and go travel indefinitely? That’s pretty much what Evan did, taking pictures all along the way, of course.

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Tell us about your decision to leave corporate America, that must have been a huge leap of faith.IT WAS! I had been working for Caesars Entertainment for the last 10 years of my career. Although it was financially rewarding and secure and comfortable, I had simply lost the passion and drive for what I was doing. That said, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do nor did I have any specific direction I wanted to pursue. I felt stuck…like I hit a wall. I didn’t know really how to get around that wall or what was on the other side, but I knew I would never recognize my full potential if I didn’t take a leap of faith and trade in the comfortable for the unknown. What ensued was a life altering 14 month journey that took me around the world, learning how to really enjoy myself and live in the moment, and spend time contributing to greater causes. I am back now but the journey continues…I continue along this leap of faith by not allowing myself to simply going back to my old ways, which would be arguably an easier path, just to return to a comfortable lifestyle. Instead I continue to push ahead down a new path that is not necessarily clear but I hope proves more fulfilling. Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 9.33.40 AM  Where did you start your travels? How did you make decide where to start and where to go next?
My first two destinations were largely dictated by my passion for kiteboarding; I went where the conditions were most ideal based on the time of year. When I left my job, I thought it would be cool to become certified to teach kiteboarding -thinking it would be a cool way to earn some spending money and create structure while traveling. The certification required that I performed a certain number of teaching hours under supervision and it just so happened that person teaching the certification course owned a school in Cabarete, Dominican Republic so I went there for two weeks and ended up staying for six weeks. I absolutely fell in love with the people and culture. The kiteboarding and surf are amazing – great vibes all around. Typical day when not teaching: wake up 7:30am, hop on a motoconcho to encuentro for some surfing until 11am, take a private salsa lesson on the beach 11:30-12:30 followed by lunch and siesta, kiteboard 2-6pm, rest up, grab some dinner, and then practice my salsa moves all night!

After Cabarete, I went to Brazil and kiteboarded up the northeast coast from Fortaleza to Jeriquaquara for 5 weeks. After a quick stop back in NYC I left for Asia on a one way ticket. Aside from planning my first couple of stops I really had no plan for where to go or for how long I was going. I knew there were certain spots or activities I wanted to see or do such as kiteboarding, volunteering, touring tribal region of Omo Valley, Ethiopia, trek with Gorillas in Uganda/Rwanda, witness the Great Migration in Kenya, etc so I used them as a directional compass. How I got to those locations and everything in between was completely improvised along the way. By not having a set itinerary, it afforded me the opportunity to live spontaneously – you meet so many people and hear about different spots to check out from other travelers and locals along the way. I stayed in spots for only as long as it felt right – from one to two nights up to six weeks in some spots! There were several locations I had to force myself to leave otherwise; I would have stayed forever such as Cabarete and Boracay in the Philippines.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 9.33.34 AM What location did you connect with the most? If you had to live somewhere else on earth where would it be?

I really loved SE Asia at large – there is such a tranquility or “zen-ness” and simplicity about it. But if I was forced to pick specific spots, I think I connected most with Cabarete in the Dominican Republic and Boracay in the Philippines and Cape Town.  There is something magical about these spots to me. In Boracay and Cabarete, I really connected with the laid back culture and found the people jovial and light hearted, food was good, and cost of living super affordable especially coming from NYC. Both are kiteboarding destinations and kiteboarding is one of those sports that just grips you…you become super passionate about it so all those who are visiting these spots are super stoked to be doing something they love to do and everyone is generally in a great mood and loving life. They are both spots that are easy to get sucked into and never leave. In Cape Town, the scenery is stunning. It’s an adventurers paradise with so much outdoors activity and sport along side a great city with lot’s to do. Lots of good food options, friendly people and relatively affordable. I found South Africa to have a lot of soul which I’m certain stems in large part from it’s checkered past which I was interested to learn more about. There is also a lot of development happening in that region (and throughout Africa) in tech and other industries so perhaps it is more realistic for finding work. I could definitely see myself living in Cape Town or kicking it back in Cabarete or Boracay for a while.

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 Tell us about how you affected change in the areas you traveled through and your humanitarian goals.
I had been donating money to various causes over the years but I never really felt connected to the outcome of my contributions. One of my goals when I left was to was to spend time doing hands/physical projects for a good cause. I found and participated in several short-term volunteer projects in different places however; after participating in a few I felt they, like so many short-term volunteer opportunities, were more “feel good” than they were directly impactful to anyone other than the volunteer. I found it difficult to find physical volunteer projects, i.e., construction projects, etc to participate in and you must be cautious that you are not taking work away from a local who would otherwise be paid to perform the same work.

With that in mind, I started networking with NGO’s (non-government organizations) along my path to learn what problems existed within their respective communities and see if there was some small way I could contribute towards a solution. One example was in Prasat Bakong District of Siem Reap, I learned that children weren’t attending school because of lack of transportation. As I delved into this issue, I learned from a generous local NGO called Human Translation, who shared their knowledge of local resources and business ideas, and guided me towards passionate community point people who could help get things done. Working with Human Translation, I learned that although the land was largely infertile, certain crops could still be harvested such as mini coconuts. We came up with a plan to grant some families who were of good character and willing to do the work necessary to change their quality of life, a small crop of mini coconut trees to nurture and harvest. In an effort to fill my desire to physically participate in projects, I worked along side these families to plant all of the trees and later developed a business plan for them to follow to sustain their business once coconuts harvest. Eventually, each crop will yield close to $800 per year which will be a significant improvement to their quality of life. As a condition of receiving these grants, each families had to commit to sending their kids to school, and commit to good husbandry and not using their new found money for drugs or alcohol. Each family was given an advance on a bicycle so their children can attend school now. Once the business yields income, the family will pay back the NGO for the cost of the bicycles. We then partnered with the principal of the school to inform him of our effort and establish an accountability program to ensure the kids were attending school and families keeping up with their end of the deal.

In the end, I invested in six sustainable businesses. As a result, I hope at least 10 more children will be educated as these families earn income it will feed back into the local community. The long-term impact of educating children is far greater.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 9.33.24 AM What camera do you use?
I was shooting with a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with an 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6. I like to travel super light…the 18-200 was perfect as it is so versatile. I’ve since upgraded to a full frame Canon 6d with a 24-105 f/4

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 9.33.07 AM What was it like being off the grid?
So there is being off the grid and then there is really being off the grid.  Most would consider just taking off to go travel for an extended period of time as being off the grid and it can be….I wanted to take it further and really get out there – no internet, no other backpacker/westerners, no english. So I bought a motorcycle in South Thailand and drove through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos by myself for close to three months. This was by far the most transformative part of my journey as it tested me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I found that spending prolonged amounts of time by yourself in places where no one speaks your language really enables you to get in touch with yourself on a very deep level….there is only so much small talk you can have with yourself before you start digging deep beneath the surface of your soul – it’s amazing what you discover in there…maybe you uncover some things you didn’t realize bothered you or find a jewel in the smallest crevices of your mind. You cherish the interaction you have with people along the way and marvel at your ability to communicate with people in light of any shared language.  Just prior to doing this, I did a two week detox including a 7 day fast to cleanse the toxins out of my body. The motorcycle journey was a detox for my soul. It was an exhilarating experience filled with self enlightenments and I really felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of it. Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 9.33.01 AM Favorite meal on all your travels?
I really loved the bulgogi bibimbop in South Korea,  murg korma zafrani w/fresh buttered naan in Jaipiur, India, and buying fresh fish at the d’Talipapa market and having it cooked in the surrounding restaurants in Boracay.
evan grant novis
evan grant novis Most memorable person
This one is super tough….I met so many people and so many characters who made such an impression on me along my journey. Its tough to say any one was more memorable than another as each connection is cherished in their own way.  One memorable person is not someone I met or got to know per se but rather, someone who I was fortunate to witness a special moment in his life. When I was touring the Omo Valley in Ethiopia I attended a bull jumping ceremony, a rite of passage for men coming of age in the Hamer Tribe. This is an important moment in a Hamer boy’s life as he must perform this ritual in order to marry and start a family as a Maza – an elder tribesman. This is a very intense ceremony filled with tribal chants and tribal women provoking tribesman to whip them on their bare backs causing scarring which is a show of devotion to the tribe. Eventually, the Hamer boy runs naked across the backs of a line of bulls numerous times in front of his tribe. There was a moment just before the Hamer boy was about to perform this ritual where I saw him standing alone crying. I was told he was upset that his elderly parents could not be there to witness him becoming a man. This was a very powerful moment and I very clearly remember it.

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Most visually stunning location?
There are two places that stand out most to me – the first was in Laos somewhere between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang…I had been driving my motorcycle for hours when i started ascending a mountain, eventually becoming so engulfed by clouds and fog that I literally could not see more than a foot or two in front of me – it took me almost an hour to complete the next 10km’s. When I finally made it through the clouds I was on a windy road for another few kilometers and then all of a sudden the scene opened up into one of the most magnificent views I had ever seen. I was surrounded by rolling hills that appeared to be covered in the most vibrant deep green moss – it looked like something you would see in a Super Mario Bros game. It was stunning..I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming – I hadn’t seen another person for hours; it was a serene moment. I pulled my bike over and sat on the ledge of the road, feet dangling off the side of the mountain and just stared out at the “Imaginary View”.

The other place I found most visually stunning was Cape Town, South Africa – the topography there is stunning…it truly feels like something right out of a National Geographic scene. When you stand at Chapman’s Peak or look out from the Cape of Good Hope (which is not actually the southern most tip of Africa btw) and look out into the ocean, you really feel like you’re standing at the edge of the world…the view is so vast you can see the roundness of the planet – the sheer enormity of the surroundings and the diverse wildlife both land and sea – it’s truly spectacular.

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How has adjusting back to the “real world” been?
It’s been interesting for sure. When I left I was “jumping into the uncomforted zone” not knowing really where I was going or what I would encounter and so that was scary and exciting. Along the way, I became very comfortable with the unfamiliar and living on the fly, frequently visiting new places, meeting new people, and experiencing different cultures – I started to feel at home everywhere…in places I had never been. When it came time to return to NYC – a place I am deeply familiar with, I found myself terrified and uncomfortable. Perhaps by the feeling of permanence that comes with going home or maybe because traveling is the ultimate form of escapism and the thought of returning signified having to really figure out the rest of my life. When I arrived however; it was somewhat magical…my new perspective on life made me feel like I was I felt like I was visiting a new city and rediscover a place I knew intimately. Also, staying in one spot without the everyday stimulation that comes with exploring unfamiliar lands, gave me an opportunity to just sit still and reflect on my journey…this was, is, a pretty cool inner experience when you get to realize your own inner growth. This doesn’t come without its own struggles as I navigate the crossroads of trying to figure out how to live a life of passion and purpose and creativity with a viable career – how to take my skill set and experience and put it in a new direction and getting people to take a chance on you.

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Future travel plans or goals?
I would love to spend some time in Central America – go check out Panama, Guatemala, and Nicaragua and then ride a motorcycle through Peru, Chile, and Argentina evan grant novis Whats next in your career?
I’ve always wanted to own my own hotel would like to develop a bohemian wellness and kiteboarding resort somewhere in central or south america where I can also continue pursuing work in international development to help lift people out of poverty by hiring local labor, supporting local businesses, and continue micro financing and mentoring entrepreneurs to start new businesses in developing nations. Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 11.16.24 AM Thanks for sharing such an intimate part of your life with us Evan! See more of Evan’s work HERE.

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  1. Once again Nicole you did it !
    There’s absolutely nothing better for me than learning everything I can about you via your talented writing your passions for photography art and now travel and of course where your at in your mission now. Your writing is inspiring whitty Fun intelligent and grippy. Your pad tour, in the other Sketch feeds my curiosities about you as you share a very good part of your brilliant self and display some awesome talents from other sources I wish them too all the best and thank them that I am able to have my days brightened up because of our super Nicole. Nicole I thank you and I adore you your the best.
    From Craig

  2. I really enjoyed this interview and found it utterly fascinating. Was exciting to live vicariously through a traveler and see the inspiring photos during this read. It brought up some memories and buried feelings from some of my travels and of course inspired an aching wanderlust.

  3. There are some really inspirational people in this world! Evan being one of them. Pretty amazing life he leads, his pics are special. Coming from Cape Town I would have to agree, it is spectacular! Jacqui @ Brooke Eva