Ernie with his wife on their camel safari in the Thar Desert.

Ernie with his wife on their camel safari in the Thar Desert.

Teaching Traveling: Want to meet someone who is a Teacher-Traveler to the max, having traveled, taught, and lived all around the world? Get ready to be awed by Ernie Kabelka.

Tell us about your background, Ernie.

Ernie: I’m 39 years old, live in Kings Park, NY and have been teaching Spanish for 13 years in Massapequa High School. The travel bug bit me in April of 2000 when I visited Ireland to meet a friend studying in Dublin. That same friend later asked me to meet up with her in Barcelona in May of the same year. Barcelona blew me away. I was infected with “Travel Fever.”

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico at sunset.

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico at sunset.

After completing my Masters Degree in May of 2001, I signed up for a month long summer program in León, Spain. After ten days of tapas and siestas, I knew that one month was not enough. I came back to Spain for one year to “study Spanish.” “Studying” was just a front. All I really wanted was more time in Spain. That year was transformative. I criss-crossed Spain north to south and east to west to learn the language and absorb the culture.

The story goes on. In Spain, I met a French girl. Then I spent two years in France criss-crossing France to learn the language and understand the culture.

Ernie's favorite Sadu in Varanasi, India.

Ernie’s favorite Sadu in Varanasi, India.

TT: Love it! Tell us more about your travels.

E: My next big adventure is my “40th Birthday Adventure.” This summer, I plan to travel to Ecuador for nine days for some climbing. I aim to summit four peaks, culminating my adventure on Cayambe, the highest point on the equator. Along the way, I’ll summit Pasochoa (13,779’), Corazón (15,708’), Illiniza Norte (16,818’) and finally Cayambe (18,996’).

In order to achieve all four peaks, I’m currently training for a half-marathon and following a mountaineering program. I’ve been to Ecuador before and loved every minute of my first adventure.

The last thing Ernie remembers before nearly blacking out over 5000m on Chimborazo in Ecuador was his guide Joel trotting along the mounting like they were at sea level.

The last thing Ernie remembers before nearly blacking out over 5000m on Chimborazo in Ecuador was his guide Joel trotting along the mounting like they were at sea level.

My honeymoon was amazing (year 2010). My wife (a Belgian who I met in Spain but she had a boyfriend and I was dating the aforementioned French girl… who years later I chased down in Australia — that’s the short version) and I spent three weeks in India and three weeks in Nepal. We landed in New Delhi and the next day we took a 16 hour train ride to Jaisalmer. Our first move was to tour the Thar desert by camel (we saw a few jets fly overhead- some Indian maybe some Pakistani). Jodhpur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, New Delhi and finally Varanasi followed. Along the way, we were hustled by “Holy Men,” practiced yoga, attended festivals, danced in monsoon rains and witnessed cremation ceremonies along the Mama Ganga.

The “Cricket Kids” chanted Olé Olé Olé for Ernie until he went to bat in a back ally in Jaisalmer. He crushed their only cricket ball over the roof at the end of the ally. They went nuts cheering for a few seconds, then ran to him to get money for a new ball.

The “Cricket Kids” chanted Olé Olé Olé for Ernie until he went to bat in a back ally in Jaisalmer. He crushed their only cricket ball over the roof at the end of the ally. They went nuts cheering for a few seconds, then ran to him to get money for a new ball.

India was frantic. As we crossed the border into Nepal, we immediately breathed a sigh of relief. We could feel the change in energy in the air. Tansen was the first stop. It was awesome to move at the relaxed pace of this sleepy village. Pokhara was the launch point for some crazy adventures. Getting lost on our way to the World Peace Pagoda was intense. Covered in leeches and on the other side of the lake, we finally stumbled across a shed. Some locals salted off our parasites and managed to get a boat to bring us back to Pokhara. We also spent a few days on the Annapurna Trail. Breath-taking views, simple tea houses and monstrous levels of elevation gain challenged us every step of the way. Our last stop was Katmandu, an amazing place with an amazing vibe.

Rowing down Ganges River in Varanasi, India.

Rowing down Ganges River in Varanasi, India.

TT: Phenomenal! How do you find your travel opportunities?

E: I spend a lot of time looking at an atlas. I enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s programs. I like Globe Trekker on PBS. I love traveling to Spanish speaking countries. I’d like to see all of Central and South America in my life. I don’t really have a method to figure out where to go to next. Although I can say that I want to see: 1. Mongolia, 2. the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar in Tanzania and 3. walk on Antarctica (the elusive 7th continent.)

In Otavalo, a woman at a kitchen in the market complemented Ernie’s Spanish, asked if he had a home, a car and a job. His positive answers to her questions caused her to summon Maria who the woman told him could “cook, clean, make a nice wife and bear healthy children.” He doesn’t don’t remember how he got out of that situation.

In Otavalo, a woman at a kitchen in the market complemented Ernie’s Spanish, asked if he had a home, a car and a job. His positive answers to her questions caused her to summon Maria who the woman told him could “cook, clean, make a nice wife and bear healthy children.” He doesn’t don’t remember how he got out of that situation.

TT: Wowza. How did you find the money to fund your travel?

E: My students always ask me how I afford to travel as often as I do. The answer is simple: lifestyle choices. I drive a 2004 Nissan, have basic cable on the one TV in my house and almost never eat out. We live very well, but very simply. I choose to save my money to travel. Our travels are simple as well. Often we will pick a stopover on our way to visit my wife’s family in Belgium. On our last trip, we explored Iceland. Next time, I’d like to see Scotland. My five year old son wants to see bagpipes at Edinburgh Castle.

I traveled to China with Arcadia College as the winner of “Pay It Forward.” I was nominated by my former student, Danielle DiVerde, as her most influential educator.

Ernie had 52 hours in Casablanca, Morocco while flying to Spain. On the last morning he ran to a local surf shop, banged on the door 30 minutes before they opened and rented a board with one of the coaches. He surfed for about 45 minutes. Then he ran back to the hotel to catch his bus to the airport.

Ernie had 52 hours in Casablanca, Morocco while flying to Spain. On the last morning he ran to a local surf shop, banged on the door 30 minutes before they opened and rented a board with one of the coaches. He surfed for about 45 minutes. Then he ran back to the hotel to catch his bus to the airport.

I guided teen travelers through Spain, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland for AAVE, now Bold Earth. For three summers, I was paid to take small groups of adventurous kids on awesome action packed itineraries. Two three week tours each summer for three years was unbelievable! Thanks Abbott Wallis!

Every February, I invite students to travel to Central America for a eco-tourism, service and Spanish immersion trip. My costs are absorbed as part of the price of the students’ cost. Next year is a new itinerary through the north of Nicaragua. I’m super psyched to see Volcán Masaya’s open crater with a bubbling lava lake light up the evening sky.

Getting paid to ride the Alps in France with Ernie's old teen travel company.

Getting paid to ride the Alps in France with Ernie’s old teen travel company.

TT: Brilliant. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly interesting.

E: While working for the teen travel company, I “fought” a bull. Darn straight. We toured a ranch that raises fighting bulls, toros bravos. First we rode in a tractor to watch the bulls roam the open plains. Then the owner, a retired bull fighter, invited us to step into the ring with a smaller version of the half ton kill dozers that he breeds for professionals toreros. I was nominated by our group in comedic fashion. When asked who would go first, every camper and counselor stepped back and pointed at me to “volunteer.” Without much instruction, I stepped into the center of the ring. My mind was racing and it felt like the world stood still. My lead feet stuck to the sand as the gates opened and a “small” bull charged into the ring. I had no red cape. No clue. No idea what the hell I was doing in the ring with a bull.

Our guide for day yelled a few instructions from the seats, “Get Closer!,” “Yell to the bull!” and “Seriously! Get Closer!” My campers silently waited for their trip leader to be obliterated by nubbed horns and hooves. I started to inch closer, clapping my hands and yelling “Toro! Toro!”at the bull. The bull stomped the arena floor, lowered his head and charged. At the last second, I slide stepped left. “Again! Again!” cried the guide and the campers. Once again, I inched forward yelling and clapping at the bull. He charged and again I eluded his stubby horns at the last second. Two more passes got me thinking that I may have a chance at career in the arena. The kids were screaming and cheering. I was ready for fame and fortune in the ring. That false sense of confidence quickly imploded as the bull charged, knocked me off my feet and I landed flat on my back. Our friendly guide rushed in to distract the bull as he pommeled me on the ground. I scampered away like a scared rabbit. Since then I have not returned to the ring.

The little killdozer charging at Ernie in the ring outside of Salamanca, Spain. His matador career was short lived. He returned to the classroom the following September.

The little killdozer charging at Ernie in the ring outside of Salamanca, Spain. His matador career was short lived. He returned to the classroom the following September.

TT: Hah! How have your travels impacted you in your current career, and as a person?

E: In May of 2001, I graduated with my Masters in Education. I was by no means ready to commit to a career. A neighbor mentioned that she was going to study in León, Spain for four weeks in July. I quickly signed on as well.

After two weeks of tapas and siestas, I was in love with León and the Spanish lifestyle. In my mind, I wasn’t coming back. However, Father John made me realize that my summer wardrobe was no match for the frigid winters of Castilla y León. I registered for “Español Para Extranjeros” courses from September through June, returned home to put things in order, and headed back seven days after September 11, 2001. That day the airport was eerily empty and I thought that I was the only traveler among the hundreds of police, military and assorted law enforcement in the terminal. While living and learning in Spain, I taught English for a small academy and realized that I loved teaching language. I would go to work and talk to people about my life in New York, American culture and sometimes explain a bit about grammar. I loved every day of working at Academia Aire.

Passed out in Thar Desert after camel ride

Passed out in the Thar Desert after camel ride.

After my year in Spain, I spent two years in France. I lived in Tours in a small apartment outside of the Place Plumereau. Again, I taught English as a second language and loved it. I worked in the “Chambre de Commerce” and a local public school as a language assistant. Again, I loved going to my job teaching English. I never imagined that I would become a language teacher. I studied psychology at Siena College and thought I’d be a shrink to help troubled kids.

Now my job title is “Secondary School Spanish Teacher.” My district will tell you that my goal is to meet the New York State Standards of education, “1. Read, write, listen and speak the target language. 2. Develop cross-cultural understanding.” I however will tell you that my goal is to get kids “out of the bubble.” Traveling the world has been such an incredibly rewarding experience. It has led to personal growth, meeting my wife and countless adventure. I want my students to live their own adventures.

Sunset over the Pacific on Big Island in Hawaii.

Sunset over the Pacific on Big Island in Hawaii.

TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

E: Don’t hesitate. Find a trusted company like Prométour and start to plan early, about a year in advance. Pick a place that you love and know well. A place that you want to share with your students. Careful selection of students is crucial for a successful trip. Encourage parents to travel with the team. My group consists of 20-28 students and about 4 parents. The parents are a tremendous help. Months before the trip, begin team building activities and create a climate of family.

TT: Thanks so much, Ernie! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

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Posted by Lillie

Lillie started TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share the infinite ways to combine education and world exploration. Lillie has been a Boston teacher since 2003, and chronicles her own travels at AroundTheWorldL.com.

2 Comments

  1. Good opportunity for the teachers.

    Reply

  2. Wow amazing piece Lillie, thank you for sharing 🙂 Ernie you’ve got me feeling complete wanderlust and a sudden urge to pack my bags to travel somewhere immediately!!

    Reply

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