The Path Through the Jungle: Advocating for Wildlife From Her Motorcycle

Image: Janelle Kaczmarzewski

Image: Janelle Kaczmarzewski

Janelle Kaczmarzewski describes herself as an anti-wildlife trafficking motorcycle journalist and a motorcycle gypsy. Passionate about wildlife, she travels to far off places on her motorcycle educating and informing people about illegal animal poaching and trafficking. She’s equates motorcycles with freedom, living a  minimalistic life on the road, when she’s not home visiting family. Having spent much of the last few years in Laos, she’s now in Colombia, investigating and writing about wildlife trafficking. Janelle says her goal is to “share an authentic journey of hope”.

Image: Janelle Kaczmarzewski

Image: Janelle Kaczmarzewski

To read more about what Janelle has done and is doing, go to


Interviewer: Jim Martin | Guest: Janelle Kaczmarzewski | Photos: Janelle Kaczmarzewski

This transcript has been created from the original audio episode released April 5, 2018. This transcript may have been modified to make reading easier. As Adventure Rider Radio shows are meant to be listened to and not read, the following script may contain some grammatical and other errors. You can also listen to this interview by downloading the episode.


Janelle: I was born and raised in Utah, but moved to the East Coast when I was young. [I] went to school in North Carolina. I like to call myself an anti-wildlife-trafficking motorcycle journalist. I’ve been living on a motorcycle for a few years now; mostly between the States and South-East Asia, and doing a lot of work in Laos. I’m currently here in Columbia, working to document the positive things that are being done to protect eco-systems, and the animals and people who depend on them.

Jim (Narrate): Janelle Kaczmarzewski- coming up next. I’m Jim Martin, this is Adventure Rider Radio. Stay with us- we’ve got a good one for you. 


Janelle: Okay, well, my name’s Janelle. I am from the States, and I’m currently here in Columbia, working to document the positive things that are being done to protect eco-systems, and the animals and people who depend on them. I think [that] documenting the positive things can have several impacts. Including bringing more attention and focus to people in projects who are working on the front lines of conservation. If there are successful methods that are being implemented there, then they can potentially be spread elsewhere.

Jim: Janelle, welcome to Adventure Rider Radio.

Janelle: Thank you!

Jim: So I notice you avoid saying your last name. Is that because you have trouble saying it?

Janelle: Oh, no. Well, my last name is Kaczmarzewski. Well, I usually go by Kacz.

Jim: Oh, that is so good.

Janelle: Yeah, so that’s more easy for people to know, and remember, and read.

Jim: Yeah, I was going to say- your last name’s as difficult as the title of what you’re doing right now. Go back and say that again. What do you say you’re doing right now?

Janelle: Anti-wildlife-trafficking motorcycle journalism.

Jim: And is that something you went to school for? I don’t think I’ve ever run across anyone doing this before. 

Janelle: No, that’s a title I made up myself.

Jim: Well, what is it?

Janelle: I went to school for biology. So my background is in the sciences. But while I was in university in North Carolina, I learned about the illegal wildlife trade. And, it just ignited this fire inside my chest. It still burns today. I just knew that I wanted to dedicate much of my life to helping end it.

Jim: So what is that?

Janelle: Wildlife trafficking?

Jim: Yeah. Talk about that.

Janelle: So wildlife trafficking is an incredibly lucrative global illicit trade. It’s hard to estimate the exact worth, but they think it’s around 20 billion dollars per year traded. (Of illegally trafficked wildlife goods.)

Jim: Wow.

Janelle: So that’s any wild animal living in it’s entirety. Like the tropical birds that are traded here from Columbia. Or the animals parts. Like the tiger bones, or elephant tusks…rhino horn…all of those things are included. And there’s many reasons for the trade. There’s the pet trade, or there’s traditional Chinese medicine, or even fashion. Like {?} skin, or trinkets made of ivory. Things like that.

Jim: And [it’s] difficult to understand the monetary value- the exact monetary value- because it’s all black-market, it’s it? None of it happens above board.

Janelle: Exactly, and it’s mostly run by these organized crime syndicates. Often in the same trafficking rings as drugs and arms and even humans. So it’s very well organized.

Jim: And dangerous. 

Janelle: Yes, definitely. Yeah, and it’s interesting here in Columbia because there’s a lot of internal trading going on. Illegal trading with pets. But more and more we are seeing things that are exported to the US, to Europe, and even to Asia. 

Jim: Are those illegal exports and imports? Is each country sort of…do they have rules saying- no, you can’t do it- but it’s happening anyway?

Janelle: Yes.

Jim: For the pet market, I’m asking.

Janelle: Oh yeah. There’s an international organization called CITES, and they put the regulations on which animals can be traded. There are some loopholes that are being exploited where,  if an animal is bred in captivity, then it’s considered different than a wild harvested one. But now they are able to use wildlife forensic sciences to test the DNA to figure out where exactly these animals are coming from, and which populations. So if they find an animal that is still alive, it can be rehabilitated. And with it’s genetic information, they can re-release it back into the same population it came from. But otherwise they can figure out if…many species look similar, and often the custom offices are not well trained at species identification. So, DNA analysis also helps them figure out what exactly they’re dealing with. 

Jim: From what I understand with DNA analysis is [that] it’s quite a process. They’re certainly not going to do that (I think) for every animals that’s crossing the border.

Janelle: They’re not- but it is getting easier. Before they had to take DNA samples and send them off to a lab. But now there’s a genetic bar code of life project that has a kit that can…it takes less than an hour to identify this genetic bar code.

Jim: Oh wow. So that definitely would really help them.

Janelle: Yeah.

Jim: And are countries- do you know- are other countries…other than just the US and Canada, and maybe some European countries…are all countries doing that? When animals are going in and out of the country?

Janelle: I think they’re getting on board. It depends on the state of wildlife trafficking in that location. Certainly in places like Singapore and Bangkok, they are having…they are utilizing this more and more because of the extreme frequency with which they’re seeing trafficking items enter into their country. 

Jim: I want to talk more about what you’re doing and what you have done, but first I want to go back to your start in motorcycling. Because it’s kind of a good story, I think. So what is it about motorcycles…okay, what age was this at? Just give me the age. I think it was…what…you tell me.

Janelle: Let’s see. I was probably about 16 when I went on my first motorcycle ride on the back of a bike. 

Jim: So was that it? That’s what sold you on it? The first ride? 

Janelle:  Yes.

Jim: Okay. Tell me about the ride. Tell me about how this happened, and you getting on the bike, and going for the ride. 

Janelle: Yeah, you know…I can’t even remember the first ride. I just remember experiencing this sense of freedom and speed, and just absolutely falling in love with it. And from that point on, [to] anyone who I knew had a motorcycle, I would just [say] please take me for a ride, and go as fast as you can. Like, do a wheelie, please. So I just loved it. I got to this point where I didn’t want to need anyone for that experience. When I was 19, I took out my first loan, and without telling my parents, went and bought a 250 Ninja off the showroom floor in Virginia. I didn’t really know how to ride a motorcycle at that point, so.

Jim: What do you mean, didn’t really know how to ride? I thought it was either you knew, or you didn’t know.

Janelle: Okay. So, I had ridden like a TTR once on dirt. Just learning how the clutch works…and things like that. It didn’t come that naturally to me. Like…it wasn’t so easy for me that day. But that was the only experience I had had. 

Jim: So you buy the bike- what happens? You just get on it, and ride it away?

Janelle: Yeah, they’re kind of like- are you going to trailer this? I was like, no, I’m going to ride it. So they pointed me to a nearby parking lot, which I spent a few hours practising in and getting to know the bike a bit. I guess I got to a point where I’m confident enough to go out and show my friends what I just bought. And, I meet up with a friend who also has a bike, and we ride around on these country roads in Virginia. It’s an amazing day. One of the best ones of my life. Until we got split up. I guess… he just takes off and goes home because he lives off in the country. I start to head back to where I live, and I only had my permit at that time. So I was doing two things that I shouldn’t have been doing; I was riding by myself, and I was riding on the highway. As inexperienced as I was, I go to pass a car on the left, around this curve to the right, and I sort of get off to this shoulder on the side of the road. And there’s a bunch of gravel there and I just have no idea what to do. I just sort of accept that I’m going to wreck. Which luckily was…well, it was into the median, but it was tall grass and soft dirt. I’m probably going 40…maybe 45 miles per hour, and the bike just slides on it’s left side, and slides for maybe 30 feet. Finally the shifter catches in the ground, spins the bike around, and throws me off. There’s grass going every which way on my helmet. It rips the shield off. Luckily I had all good gear on, and just my jacket came up a little bit on my hip, and some grass took the skin off. But other than that, I was fine. There was this man who’s house was right on the highway, and he saw the whole thing. So he came running down. His arms were covered in Harley tattoos. Like, ride or die, you know, and he’s just like; ah, I hate to see a rider go down, especially a girl. I’m just like, please help me get my bike out of here before any police come. So he helps me push my bike out of there, and then I have to call my dad. So I tell him; so I just bought a motorcycle today, and I just wrecked it. He is just in disbelief for the longest time, just saying like, no you didn’t, no you didn’t. No you didn’t, no you didn’t. Repeatedly. So finally he believes me, and comes to pick me up. Where the shifter had caught in the ground, it had broke the shifter plate. So I wasn’t able to change out of gears at all. There’s no way I could have ridden it unless I was just riding it in second gear or something the whole way. He had a friend who could weld aluminum, and so they welded that shifter plate. One of the things I’m really thankful for- my dad coming through for me is- afterwards, he had me get on the bike to see if it felt right. To see if it was repaired well. I think if I hadn’t gotten back on that day, that first day, I could have been really afraid of it. So I’m really thankful that he pushed me to do that. And…yeah. That was the beginning of it all.

Jim: It’s notable that your parents are not into motorcycles. I mean, it really says something about your dad. That he did that. When his daughter goes and gets this bike without telling him, and he encourages you to…he can see you’re passionate about it. 

Janelle: Yeah. It’s funny because I’m the only girl (I have three brothers). And, after I bought this bike, and had this experience, my dad went out and bought a Harley. So I think that that kind of gave him the excuse or the permission to finally go out and get a bike. Because I think I guess he had been wanting to for a while…which I had no idea [of].

Jim: As you mentioned, you’re passionate about wildlife. Where does that come from?

Janelle: Oh, that’s been with me my entire life. I’ve always had a really strong connection to animals. I’ve always been completely enamoured by them. But my mom as well, she’s a very nurturing woman, and she loves animals as well. I have this crazy memory of her that I think kind of ignited some of my love for biology and curiosity. We had this huntress of a cat that would go out and bring home all these crazy animals- rabbits, the neighbours decorative fish out of their pond…one day it brought home this pregnant rat. My mom…she cut open the belly of the rat, and tried to resuscitate the fetal baby rats inside. I remember watching this just being like disturbed, but also very intrigued. And…we always had a lot of animals. We had…4 dogs, 6 cats, birds, fish, reptiles, hamsters…and my dad didn’t want any of it. So he put up with a lot. But yeah, my mom is definitely an animal lover. 

Jim: You end up moving at one point to the coast. To Seattle. What brought you out to Seattle?

Janelle: So I was living in Thailand for about a year and a half, [and] in the south of Thailand before that. I moved to Thailand after my degree because I wanted to sort of get my feet wet in the world of working against the illegal trade. The wildlife trade. When I arrived in Thailand, I was sort of going to these National Preserves, and saying that I would like to work there for free. But they were saying, oh, we’re not really set up for that. Or, we don’t do that. When I was in Bangkok, in the city, I would talk to people about this passion of mine, and they would tell me that very powerful people there had their hands in wildlife trafficking, and that it wasn’t safe to speak up about such things unless you’re under the umbrella of a large organization. So I ended up living in the south teaching science and math at a school there. While I was in Thailand, I met someone who ran a nonprofit in Laos. The nonprofit was humanitarian work. So, [eg.] bringing clean water to children in village schools. I moved to Seattle to be there, and to be there with him, and build a more sustainable version of the nonprofit. So together we worked on a project to build a social business. A business model where all the profits funded these humanitarian needs. So we did a physical fundraiser in Seattle, and then an online one through Indiegogo. Then about a year later, moved to Laos. We built a coffee house there. In the south there’s amazing coffee which nobody really knew about because they were just mixing it in with really low quality Vietnamese coffee. But it’s actually…we had it cupped by a coffee roaster in California, and it received an 86/87 score, which is really high. So it’s really good quality arabica coffee. So we developed relationships with the local farmers, and they would bring the coffee right to our door, and we would roast it. Mostly selling it to tourists, because it’s not really a coffee culture there. Which is really interesting, so we had invited 17 of the village chiefs to bring their individual crafts of coffee to our roaster. We roasted it for them, and brewed it, and had them try it. They didn’t really like the taste of it. They’re used to like the 3-in-1. You know- the sugar, cream, coffee powder instant mix. Which is very sweet, and not really coffee. But, yeah. That’s kind of the first step in bringing quality coffee. In showing them what it is. And then, with the money that we made from this coffee house business, we would drill clean water wells for children in the local coffee growing communities and also give hygiene education. So I was teaching little kids how to wash their hands and things. So that business is still up and running. There’s volunteers there. It’s difficult to make enough actual money to fund the water projects that we want to do, but it’s actually a really good model because so many nonprofits just have to keep asking for money. To build a business where the objective is a social cause…it’s a really great idea. So, yeah. 

Jim: Do the farmers…or did the farmers…not roast their beans before? Was it always sort of sold off just as it is? They pick the beans, and then they send them off? Whereas, you were showing them what it was like as a finished product?

Janelle: There was one man who would roast his own coffee, but it was just in a pan over the fire. Which is a lot of work. You have to stir it continuously, and it’s really really difficult to get an even roast. So we actually had a handmade roaster that was made out of…it was like a computer fan, and it was run off of rice husk. Which, once you burn the rice husk in this coffee roaster in a low oxygen environment, then you have biochar. It’s like a backyard roaster, basically. So, yeah. None of the farmers were roasting there coffee, and they didn’t really know what happened to the coffee after they got rid of it. So they were actually able to see the roasting process, many of them for the first time.

Jim: We’ve had many people talk about social businesses before on the show. One fairly recently. But for those who don’t understand what it is, can you just tell us briefly what that is?

Janelle: Yeah, it’s just a business model where all of the profits go towards a cause. So, instead of having it go into the pockets of people, it’s going to solve problems. Whatever they may be. So in this case- many of the children in Laos…they don’t have clean water. They don’t have bathrooms in their school. I got to see firsthand that these children have never actually washed their hands before. So to be able to show them that process-

Jim: Never? No, hang on. They never washed…like, you’re serious about that?

Janelle: I mean like, with soap, no. No, they never had. It’s so funny. I would ask the kids, like, when should you wash your hands? And they say, after you eat. It was like…no…definitely before. So yeah, I would show them, and there was this really awkward process of making sure they wash both hands and not just one. It’s incredible what impact such basic knowledge can have on communities and individuals. I think it was the accumulation of having a teaching experience in Thailand, and then this teaching experience where seeing [how] such basic knowledge can have such a big impact. The whole time I was there, I was experiencing what the culture was like with wildlife. One day in the cafe, one of our employees brought his little bird. It was pink. He had no feathers. He was trying to feed it solid banana. This employee…he’s a wonderful guy, but he really struggled. He had a hard time taking care of himself let alone his two children let alone this baby bird. My mother raised tropical birds, so I’ve had a lot of experiments raising them. So I knew you couldn’t feed it solid food. So I ended up raising this parakeet, a very small parrot. I raised it myself. And, you know, this employee didn’t buy it, and the person that took it from the jungle didn’t have any intention of selling it or making any sort of livelihood for himself. He took it from the jungle just because he could. Because he saw it. And it made me realize, I don’t think they’ve ever been told that it’s better to leave the wildlife in the wild. That it has inherent value alive in that environment. So I realized what sort of impact this basic knowledge could have if children and their parents were taught this. So that’s sort of…even while I was in the coffee house doing this project, I was brewing this idea to create curriculums in these schools. And they have so few resources there, I knew it could only benefit them and the wildlife. So I left the coffee house, and it was at that point that I decided to start living on a motorcycle. So I bought an older 1984 Kawasaki ZN4-700. I rode across the States, and I just started fundraising. I fundraised to buy educational resources to take back to Laos with me so that I could properly implement these curriculums. I also joined this incredible wildlife conservation organization out of Laos. They really needed an education side to their research and their training that they were already doing. So I started bringing this curriculum to really remote village schools that are in vulnerable areas. That are in the wildlife protected zones. That are also rife with poaching because they are on the boarder of Vietnam. So, yeah. Just trekking through the jungles with binoculars, and magnifying glasses, and high quality printed posters and animal masks that I had printed in the states for the kids to wear so that they could really embody the animals, and hopefully connect to it in a different way. Because they had never realized or heard that the animals that they have there are found nowhere else in the world. They were usually very surprised to hear that, and to know that people outside of that area cared. They’d also never seen high quality photographs. Like, looking into the eyes of these animals. Maybe they’d seen a dead one, or a poor drawing of one, but…yeah. It really helped, I think, to connect them in a different way to animals that are in their own backyards. 

Jim: The country’s struggling financially, and I think when it comes to that, it’s very difficult to look at those sorts of things when just the day to day survival is a problem.

Janelle: Certainly. I mean, Laos is one of the poorest nations. It’s landlocked, so there’s no port. They also were very heavily bombed by the US during the Vietnam war. We dropped over 270 million cluster bombs on Laos. Over a third of those didn’t explode, so they’re still lurking in the landscape. With every monsoon, the bombs shift. So it’s very dangerous for farmers when they’re tilling their soil. And children. They have over 300 incidences per year, and over 30% of them are children. They see something shiny in the earth, and they want to dig it up. So they have many problems. And the thing with wildlife trafficking is, a lot of people point to poverty being the reason for them poaching the wildlife. But in reality, it’s not that. It’s the increase in affluence in China and Vietnam. Where they want to afford more rare wildlife. Whether it be for luxury meats that they’re consuming in restaurants…or like in Vietnam, they’re snorting rhino horn as a hangover cure for the next day while they’re partying at night. Rhino horn is just keratin. It’s fingernails. So there’s no medicinal benefit. It’s just a status symbol.

Jim: Wow, that’s really sad. So is the statistic you just said. I think you said 270 million cluster bombs dropped.

Janelle: Yeah.

Jim: That means like…and you said a third leftover…so we’re talking 90 million bombs leftover that did not explode originally?

Janelle: Yes. And Laos was neutrally declared. So they were not in the war. There was a secret air base that the US had in the North, and often they didn’t want to land with any bombs in the planes, so they would just unload them onto Laos. People lived in caves for a decade. The amount of money that we spent bombing Laos…it’s incomparable to the amount that we have spent cleaning up these bombs. And we really need better practices to locate and clear these UXO because they say it’ll take over 100 years to clear that amount of bombs at this rate.

Jim: UXO is unexploded bombs?

Janelle: Yeah. Unexploded ordnance, yeah. 

Jim: Right. You mentioned you bought your ’84 Kawasaki, the ZN700, and you went around fundraising. What are you doing for money when your’e doing this? You’re basically devoting yourself to helping people. How do you get by?

Janelle: Yeah…I haven’t quite figured out the balance of making my life passion a sustainable endeavour for myself. So I just…I work in the States in the fall. Like this past fall, I was working at a vineyard. And, I just save up as much money as I can, and I go work for free. 



Jim: Do you have friends and family who look at what you’re doing and say, well, that’s really great…but they’re sort of spending their time…or maybe they don’t even say it to you. Maybe you just see it. Your friends that you went to school with, that you hang out with, whatever…they’re off with their career, they’re making their money, they’re doing their thing…and they seem to be “advancing” (as a lot of people will see it) their life. And yet, you’re giving everything away. Does that ever come up in your mind?

Janelle: Yeah. And I prefer it, actually. The thought of owning a house feels really like an anchor that…I don’t desire that. And I have experienced giving away or getting rid of all of my stuff before. Once I started living on a motorcycle, I rode it out to Seattle, and I had some stuff in storage, and I had a car there and everything…and I just got rid of it all. And that feeling…once it was all gone, and I packed everything that I needed…strapped it onto my motorcycle, and just took off to go down to the coast…there’s no way I can describe how that feels. It’s the most freeing experience ever, and I wouldn’t trade it for all of the possessions in the world. So, yeah. I don’t have anything to show for my education, or my working life, but I feel incredibly rich in life experiences.

Jim: It’s really the reason you can do what you’re doing, isn’t it? I mean, because, a lot of people like the…sort of the trappings of life. Which is fine, I mean because, we’re all different. That’s what the great thing is, and I would never say that somebody needs to lean one way because someone else is doing it, and it works for them. But, the whole idea of having things…it really ties you down, doesn’t it? I mean, if you had a house, and you had a car, and you had a dog at home, or whatever the case was…you’d really have to think about this stuff before you head off to Laos, or to South America to try and do some sort of humanitarian effort. It becomes a bit of a problem, really. 

Janelle: Oh, totally. And I think that danger lies in comfort. You know? We get very comfortable, and I think it’s a quote by Krishnamurti. I really love it because he says something like…it’s not the unknown that we fear, it’s leaving behind the known ['One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end’]. So we’re never afraid of the unknown. It’s just letting go of everything that we’ve had and known, and stepping away from that. That’s really what the scary part is. And it’s becomes more and more difficult the more you settle into a life that’s comfortable. So yeah, I don’t have a partner or a family/children of my own, or…I would give anything to have a dog. But you know. There’s such roots, anchors that…it’s not possible to live my life this way and also have that. 

Jim: But the motorcycle’s been a big part of your life. It’s been…I guess your transportation everywhere you go. Because you rode one in Laos as well?

Janelle: Yep. Yeah…I can’t live without riding motorcycles. I fully accept that part of myself. Like, I can’t live somewhere where the winter wouldn’t allow me to ride as much as I want. And it’s cheap, it’s freeing, it’s very fun. It’s definitely [my] preferred way of experiencing the world. 

Jim: Where are you now?

Janelle: Right now I’m in Medellín, Columbia. I landed in Columbia around February 1st, and purchased a Royal Enfield Himalayan. It’s a great bike for on-road and off-road. I think it does a bit better off-road. It doesn’t have quite as large of an engine for straight pavement. So it does really great on some of the rougher roads and the back country here in Columbia. 

Jim: And what are you doing in Columbia?

Janelle: So, I’m here because Columbia is one of the richest countries in biodiversity, second only to Brazil. But first in the world for a number of bird species. There’s very interesting things happening here in Columbia. There’s unfortunately an increase of wildlife trafficking. More and more they’re finding Jaguar teeth in China being sold for the price of cocaine. Or fish bladders coming from this area are showing up in China. So more and more of the wild resources are being exported illegally. And, I really want to focus on the positive things, so I’m documenting the positive actions being taken to protects the ecosystems here as well as the animals and people that depend on them. I hope that by show casing these people and these projects [that] they’ll receive more attention and potentially more funding, and those successful methods of conservation. Or just honouring the wild. Those will spread. And we will see more of that, more of that can manifest. So I’m visiting conservation projects, anti-trafficking groups, biological research stations…all of these positive efforts that are being done in this incredible…they have the more varied landscapes here in Columbia and they have incredible amounts of endemic species. Species that are found nowhere else in the world. And I actually chose to come here to Columbia before I realized the situation. Columbia is at this incredible pivotable moment in history. They are coming out of 50 years of violent war. Much of that was fuelled by profits of a cocaine trade. So there’s been around 250 thousand people dead and 7.7 million are displaced. It’s this…you can see that the people here have endured and overcome such incredible tragedies for their country. But this peace treaty that was signed in 2016…it’s the beginning of this long and slow process of reconciliation. But they’re on this precipice of economic, cultural, and intellectual rebirth. Because two generations of Columbians have escaped Columbia to go live somewhere more peaceful, and they’ve studied in all areas. Now they’re returning. And, they’re also returning to find that much of Columbia- the wild places- exist because the Farc, the revolutionary armed forces…their presence in this biologically rich track of land have prevented it from being developed…from industrial development. So now there’s this race for scientists to rush into these areas, once war zones, to see what riches actually exist there. There’s kind of this fork where it could go either way. The people could harvest the timber, and poach the wildlife, or they could do something sustainable. They could go in the way of eco tourism, and protect this richness, and manage it’s resources in a sustainable way. So I feel like, once I learned all this, it’s like, no wonder I felt called to come here for so long. And what an incredible time to be here.

Jim: So you’ve got a cultural shift. The people who escaped because of the war have come back educated, [and] now look at things differently. They’ve seen things through other eyes, and certainly have a different perspective. And then the opening of this-like you said- preserved area, accidentally preserved, that’s a pretty incredible transition, yeah. So you’re planning to stay there for a while?

Janelle: Yeah. It really is incredible. I am. I plan to stay around 6 months. I’m also trying to…I love to write, and a lot of the writing that I’ve done has been for magazines just for free, because I love to, and I want to share these stories. So I’m attempting to try to start writing for some income, and that would enable me to stay for as long as I’d like to, and maybe even longer. So…we’ll see. 

Jim: The motorcycle’s your transportation, it’s what you use to get around…but do you also take time to explore? Is that part of what you’re doing? Or are you just totally focused on the task at hand?

Janelle: Yeah, I’m pretty focused on the task at hand. There are some areas where they’re only accessible by boat or plane, and I would love to go into these areas, but I don’t quite know how that would fit into my objectives. So those areas, like the Southern Amazonas of Columbia…they’re in the back of my mind, but because I can’t ride there, I’m sort of thinking about other areas, and other projects that I can visit first. 

Jim: For those that might be considering travelling through Columbia, or traveling to Columbia for a motorcycle trip, is it a place that you’d recommend at this point?

Janelle: Oh, absolutely. It’s really interesting being a woman traveling alone on a motorcycle. For me, it’s been a very compelling way to tell a story about conservation.  The wildlife…the wealth of wildlife alive and respected in it’s own environment. So, southeast Asia is relatively peaceful, and I’ve spent over 5 years there travelling around and being on a motorcycle. So, yeah. I felt afraid when I was coming here, as well as when I got my bike and packed it up and was ready to hit the road. Because though there’s…the peace treaty has been signed, it is going to be a slow process towards peace. So there are still areas that are controlled by armed forces. And people say that you just can’t go there. Those areas are basically off limits. And so you have to be in contact with local knowledge to know where those places are. But I have to say, so far I’ve only experienced incredible landscape, and very kind people. So I absolutely would recommend it. 

Jim: You mentioned travelling alone as a woman as being…you made it sound like it was different for you, traveling like that. Do you find there’s things that you have to do that’s different than if you were a guy? Because you mentioned about being scared, I mean…I’ll bet most guys would be scared as well. I think it’s just a matter of…as a woman, you’re probably more apt to be honest about it than what a guy is. But, do you find that there are things or activities…things you want to do that you might not otherwise do? Or it somehow hinders you, because you’re travelling alone as a woman? 

Janelle: Yeah, sure. I try not to draw too much attention to myself. Sometimes there might be a situation where I might want to stop and take a photo, and I see the scenario, and I realize how many eyes would be on me, and it might not seem like the best idea to do that, and so I carry on. I miss out on taking that photo. I certainly don’t go out by myself at night. I don’t {?}, or perhaps take a walk around a town at night. It just doesn’t seem smart, unless I know that the area’s safe, and I know where I’m going. So yeah- like exploring at night, I don’t. I don’t think that is the wisest, so. I’ve been doing this for a while, and it doesn’t matter where I am, because everyone is afraid. Whether it’s in the States…people tell me I’m crazy. That it’s not safe for me to be doing this alone as a woman. Even in Laos, which is so peaceful- the old grandmas would tell me, somebody is going to come slit your throat, and take your bike. I’m just like…grandma! That’s a terrible thought. No, that’s not going to happen. So I think, people…I don’t watch the news, and I choose to be optimistic, and feel welcomed in the world…so I don’t entertain thoughts that don’t allow me to exist that way. But I am smart. I do keep myself as safe as possible. And try to be prepared for scenarios as best I can. 

Jim: And you just don’t put yourself in those situations. Like you said [with] taking the photograph. I mean, in all likely hood, you could stop and take that photograph, and it would have been fine, but you don’t take the chance. In other words, you’re not putting yourself in those positions where you might run into a problem. 

Janelle: Exactly. Yeah. I have to access the risk, and make decisions accordingly. So yeah, I have to do that all the time. 

Jim: So if you could give some tips here, for women that want to travel on their own, what would you give them?

Janelle: I would say; just do it. Just go out into a place where you have never been, and experience what that will feel like for you. Because, I think if you operate from a place of feeling loved by the universe, and [feeling] that the universe wants you to go out and explore, then I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to. There’s no time like the present. There’s no need to wait for something else to happen in the future to take the opportunity. I think you should just try it. You should do it. 

Jim: What about dealing with people? Do you find that if you run into a situation, or if you have to negotiate something, a problem or whatever, do you find that you have to sort of change your personality or deal with things in a different way than what you would if you were back home? 

Janelle: No, not really. I think I operate the same no matter where I am, if I’m alone. I think that’s one of the beauties of being on your own, is that, you’re not able to lean on your traveling partner. If you need help or assistance, you need to seek that out in the local community. And, I’ve had the best experiences that there’s no way I could have planned. I looked outside of myself for guidance, or for assistance, and…yeah. I believe that people are good. I think compassion is my greatest defence. I think that’s just how I operate. When that is your frame of reference, I think that is often mirrored to you. I’ve had plenty of flat tires, I carry spare tubes with me…[but] I don’t have the tools to change it myself. I’ve had wonderful interactions with people in other countries where they’ve helped me with things. And I really appreciate those experiences. My older brother, he’s a mechanic, and he’s basically given me motorcycle maintenance 101 over the phone.

Jim: You mean when you’ve needed it, sitting at the side of the road?

Janelle: Yeah. Or maybe not on the side of the road because I didn’t have reception, but somewhere I could get to be able to call him. But yeah, he’s so patient. He’s been able to explain these things to me, and I’ve learned so much about mechanics just because things have broken on my bike, and I have no one else but myself in the vicinity. Thankfully, I have my brothers advice. But yeah, you really have to…you have to wear many hats. You have to learn to fix whatever needs to get fixed on that money. Whether it’s your bike, or a strap on your luggage…you have to be the navigator…all of these things. It really falls on you. So you learn so much about yourself in those moments. 

Jim: I really like this, because you’re going out believing that people are good, believing you won’t have problems and believing that people have the best of intentions. But you’re not being foolish about it. You’re still keeping your head about you, and being careful.

Janelle: Right. Definitely.

Jim: It’s a great way to travel. I mean really, I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising, that should be how everybody travels.

Janelle: Yeah, I totally agree. 

Jim: What about a backup plan? Do you have anything sort of in your back pocket? I mean, if anything goes wrong, some people talk about [how] they’ve got the money for the flight home etc.. Do you do that sort of thing when you travel? Do you have that backup plan that if…I mean, especially doing what you’re doing. Because you’re dealing…if you’re dealing with animal trafficking, like you mentioned before…there’s some powerful forces there, corrupt organizations involved with it. Do you have that plan? Do you have that backup thing where you say, if everything goes wrong, this is what I do?

Janelle: Um…

Jim: No! That’s a no. I can tell.

Janelle: No, actually. 

Jim: Janelle, the hesitation just said it all.

Janelle: So, I have people who love me. I know that I can call them if times get really tough. I also know people who operate in the world of anti-wildlife-trafficking around the world. They tell me like, call me if anything happens. If anything happens, just call me. I know people on the ground, and we’ll figure it out. So, if stuff really goes wrong, I have faith that it’ll all work out.

Jim: Well, that’s probably a lot better than the thousand dollars to cover your flight home, because nothing’s better than having family and friends to help you out if something goes wrong. 

Janelle: Absolutely. I travel alone, and I’m doing all this solo, but I really don’t feel alone. I feel very supported.

Jim: Janelle, before we finish up here, I just want to ask you…is there anything that you want to put out there or that the general public can do to help with what you’re trying to achieve?

Janelle: Yeah, a lot of people ask me about volunteering, especially abroad. They feel like they need to go far away from their home or their daily life to really make a difference, and I think the most important thing is to be kind where you are. To be compassionate with yourself, and others. And to just be more kind. Because like we were talking [about] before, there’s so much that science can’t explain including dark matter, and dark energy, which make up most of the universe. We truly how no idea how far the ripples of our intentions go. You don’t know the effects of what being kind to someone else…whether it be it a loved one, a stranger, or yourself…you don’t know what the outcome could be. So I think that’s incredibly important, and it’s something that we can all do wherever we are.

Jim: Janelle, it was great to get your story. Thank you very much.

Janelle: Thank you, thanks for your time. It was great to talk to you. 


Jim (Narrate): Just incredible. So many different ways to live your life. So many different options out there. That was Janelle Kaczmarzewski. She was in South America when I spoke with her, and if you want to find out more about Janelle, we’ve got some information about her on the website in the show notes for this episode.



Interviewer/Host: Jim Martin
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Transcriptionist: Natasha Martin

*Special thanks to our guest: Janelle Kaczmarzewski

Music Credits:

Lazy Day
Landras Dream

Greasy Wheels - Apple

Funky Folk Long - Apple

Various - in house


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