Williams Lake’s Melanie Berger with one of the elephants she helped care for while volunteering in March

International volunteering a joy

Melanie Berger has visited six continents and nearly 50 countries and has seen and done things the average person could only dream of.

At only 31, Melanie Berger has visited six continents and nearly 50 countries and has seen and done things the average person could only dream of.

One could say that the travel bug and wanderlust was in Melanie’s DNA from the time she was born. After all, she is the daughter of parent’s who thought it would be fun to wed at the so-called ‘top of the world’ in Point Barrow, Alaska.

“I was born with the travel bug. It runs in my blood and keeps me moving from place to place,” Berger says.

Berger currently lives in Chile with her husband, Pablo, whom she met at the Trece Lunas Hostel in Ancud, Chile in May, 2013.

“Pablo’s best friend is the owner of this hostel I was staying at and he came to visit his friend, and that’s when our paths crossed,” said Berger. “I couldn’t ever imagine this is where I’d be two years ago but that’s what I love about life as it always surprises me with wonderful adventures and challenges.”

Pablo and Melanie call Ancud home and the town is located on an island in southern Chile.

“I love Ancud because it has that small town feel, like Williams Lake. The people are friendly and have a big sense of humour – they love laughing,” said Berger.  “The lifestyle is very easy going, something that one tends to find on small islands.”

Her parents, Willy and Verena, immigrated to the Cariboo from Switzerland in the late 1970s  and  bought a hobby farm in Spokin Lake where they raised Melanie and her brother Oliver.

By the time she graduated, Melanie had already racked up the airmiles which included a few overseas trips to see family in Switzerland, a high school science trip to Florida and volleyball trip to Hawaii.

She also took a six-week French language trip to Quebec City.

Initially headed to Quebec with a friend, she ended up going alone after the friend backed out, something she credits as a stepping-stone to her world travel ambitions.

“The trip to Quebec may have been where I gained confidence and learned a lot about myself as it was very challenging,” said Melanie.

While many of her friends set down roots long ago having children and working the same job in the same town for years, Melanie’s longing for adventure and life experience has kept her globe-trotting.

“I was considering the idea of settling down especially once I got to South America in 2013.

“I’d wanted to travel here for about 10 years and when I finally arrived I met Pablo and things just clicked,” said Berger.

“I love the Spanish language and Latin culture and feel very comfortable here.”

Melanie and Pablo were married this past March at a small intimate ceremony in Ancud.

They spent last summer in Williams Lake where Pablo was introduced to her parents who still reside in the lakecity,

Willy is a recently retired realtor and Verena is a writer.

“We loved coming back home — it was a fantastic experience for us both. For Pablo it was great to have the opportunity to travel and live in Canada as he had never travelled outside of South America,” said Berger.

Pablo’s family has a restaurant and penguin tour company which they both work for on occasion. Melanie also works as an English teacher and often translates on the tours for English and German visitors.

Berger graduated from Columneetza in 2000 and spent her childhood ski racing, playing volleyball and acrosport.

Her current fitness regime includes long distance running and yoga.

She graduated from the University of Victoria in 2006 where she double-majored in Hispanic and Germanic Studies.

While pursuing her degree, Melanie studied abroad in Alicante, Spain and Kassel, Germany and worked two years at a restaurant in Grünwald, Switzerland.

After graduation Melanie spent the next few years living in Vancouver working as an administrative assistant for a mining company and a legal assistant for A&W Food Services.

Growing up in a small town left an imprint on Berger as she never saw herself living in a big city.

“Vancouver is a beautiful city but I knew I wouldn’t stay there long term because I prefer small towns,” said Berger.

Her love of travel does not often go hand in hand with her professional life as twice she’s quit her job and sold most of her belongings to pursue her next great adventure.

“When I travel I enjoy taking my time so have found it difficult to continue working for a company that only provides me with a few weeks holidays per year,” said Berger.

“I enjoy having flexibility and value my time greatly — my lifestyle here in Chile provides me with exactly that.”

There are a few causes near and dear to Melanie’s heart which she familiarized herself with along her sojourns.

“I’ve loved elephants since I was born and have a natural connection and passion for them,” said Berger.

She dreamt of seeing elephants in their natural habitat and in the Fall of 2008 her dad took her to Tanzania on what she describes as the trip of a lifetime.

Five years later while travelling Bolivia, Melanie got a tattoo on her foot of the first elephant she saw in the wild during this trip.

In March, 2014 Melanie also volunteered at WFFT (Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand) where she worked up close with elephants in Thailand.

“It was extremely hard work — very physical — from 6 a.m. to dusk we cleaned out the enclosures, fed and washed the elephants and much more.”

Some of Berger’s other travel highlights include climbing to the peak of Huayna Potos (6,088m) travelling alone in Bolivia which she describes as a ‘great physical and mental challenge’.

She also recalls when she and two friends refurbished an old van to live and travel in around Europe.

“We visited many ski resorts and called ourselves the Powder Hounders, and the van Powder Hound,” said Berger.

On that trip they drove 22,400 kilometres and visited 22 countries in just four months.

Melanie always has pending travel plans and lists New Zealand, Nepal, Iceland, Norway, Kenya and more of South America as future destinations.

She also hopes to return to Canada next year, but plans to stay living in Chile for the long-term.


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