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Sunny van der Star

Sunny was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where the woods at the end of her street provided the backdrop for endless adventures and taught her to notice and appreciate the natural world. Bound only by the sound of the dinner bell, she spent her childhood exploring the creeks and hills beneath the tall maples, or daydreaming on one of her favorite rocks.

With parents who collected National Geographic magazines and saw the good in people of all walks of life, they enthusiastically nurtured her sense of independence and curiosity. In 1988, when she expressed interest in spending a summer studying in Estonia and Russia, they put her on a plane with a camera and their blessing. Witnessing the collapse of the Soviet Union from the vantage point of her Estonian host-sister raised Sunny's awareness of politics and interest in philosophy. It also solidified her desire to see more of the world and find a way to make a positive difference.

From her late-teens onward, Sunny took advantage of any opportunity she could find to travel. Degrees in geology and environmental policy from Duke University and the University of Colorado and a background in mountaineering helped her land some great research, guiding and teaching gigs at field schools in Australia, California, Colorado, Switzerland, France, Italy, Montana and Alaska. In her late 20s, she shifted gears and immersed herself in the study of healing arts. Her passion for Thai massage, yoga and meditation led her on a series of life-changing adventures in Thailand, India, Laos, Tibet, China and Nepal.

In her 30s, Sunny’s paths merged with the creation of Integral Travel, a small eco-conscious adventure travel company. Her specialized itineraries focused on healing arts education and service learning in some of the world’s most exotic, remote and stunningly beautiful locales, including Ilha Grande, Brazil; Pucon, Chile, Taghazout, Morocco; Loch Linnhe, Scotland; Playa Sombrero, Costa Rica; Tarifa, Spain; Ubud, Bali; and Khao Sok National Park, Thailand. At the same time, Sunny created the Zia Project, a nonprofit wing of her organization that focused on bringing healing arts education into underserved communities. During its decade-long existence, the Zia Project catered to tsunami survivors in Thailand, school children in a favela in Rio de Janiero, single mothers living on the streets in south London, Navajo and Zia tribal members, low-caste girls in Bodhgaya, India, and LGBTQ teens from Boulder, Colo., among others.

During a short work hiatus in Spain, Sunny accidentally boarded the wrong bus and got stuck in the wrong town, but ended up meeting her “Mr. Right.” She and her Dutch love were married exactly four years later in Bali, then made their way to Boulder for their biggest adventure yet—raising boy/girl twins. Sunny joins the Nat Hab team as an Adventure Specialist, where she loves chatting with potential travelers about Nat Hab’s incredible itineraries and supporting them with the knowledge and confidence they need to take the leap into the unknown. Picturing her guests’ minds and hearts being blown wide-open as they experience a polar bear, gorilla or elephant at close range for the first time is one of her greatest joys.

When she is not at work you can find Sunny hiking in the foothills, rolling around on her yoga mat, camping in the desert with her family or daydreaming about the day when her kids are old enough to join her and her husband on their first Nat Hab adventure!
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Sunny's Adventures
    Lounging in the sun with a Giant Tortoise – Tortoise Camp, Santa Cruz IslandMarine Iguanas – Galapagos IslandsSunrise in the GalapagosBaby sea lion – Galapagos IslandsGiant Tortoise – Tortoise Camp, Santa Cruz IslandMarine Iguana – Galapagos IslandsLunch buffet aboard the Ocean Spray – Galapagos IslandsA sunset hike with my kiddos. Boulder, ColoradoBackpacking trip on the Kennecott Glacier. McCarthy, AlaskaBalinese dance class. Ubud, BaliCamping with my crew. Moab, UtahCelebrating my birthday on the tundra. Churchill, ManitobaDescending the Briethorn and enjoying the view of the Matterhorn. Zermatt, SwitzerlandEnjoying the view atop Kongmaru la. Ladakh, IndiaEverest Basecamp, Tibet side.Exploring the Netherlands with my kiddos.Feeding an elephant at the Elephant Nature Park. Mae Taeng, ThailandGiving Thai massage to tsunami survivors. Baan Thalaynok, Thailand.Meditation retreat with my dear friend Phra Frank. Bangkok, ThailandMeeting his holiness, the Dalai Lama, at his private residence. Dharamshala, India.My colleague Rachel and me, ready to see our first polar bears! Churchill, ManitobaMy husband and I celebrating after saying 'I do.' Nusa Lembongan, IndonesiaPlaying capoiera. Rio de Janiero, Brazil.Polar bears sparring. Epic show in Churchill, Manitoba.Teaching English in a small village in central Tibet.Zia and Zephyr: Future Nat HabersMorning cruise in my happy place. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
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