Non-destructive Travel

There has been a lot of fuzz about our “carbon footprint” and most articles on non-destructive traveling start and end with quoting our unsustainably high carbon dioxide emissions on international flights. The obvious result of these well-intended pieces is that readers can’t hear it any longer and lose interest in non-destructive travel altogether.

The climate isn’t getting any cooler but our heads should. You should have a warm interest in leaving behind a healthier planet, or this article is not for you.
So, are you still with me? “Non-destructive travel” is about reducing the depletion of resources we leave in our wake as we live our lives. We all contribute our share to the trashing of this planet, the stripping of minerals, fossil fuels, groundwater, biodiversity, fresh air, glaciers, rainforests, fish, lakes, reefs, river deltas, peet swamps, tundras, everything we f*cking destroy. Watch the brilliant series “The Story of Stuff” on a small, energy-efficient screen for more.
– So non-destructive travel is refusing to continue this bullshit at least while you’re out of your home.

We know there is a necessary transformation we have to make at home, but things aren’t just so flexible there. The paperwork for your new solar panel is late, you can’t afford replacing that old boiler, there’s not enough cash in your clunker, using rainwater for the garden seems far-fetched, you have no idea where to dispose of your batteries, non-toxic detergent is too expensive, the kids keep nagging, and so on.

While traveling we have a unique chance to try out all this good stuff. We can start sharing a little, go to a less westernized hotel, experiment with vegetarian or vegan food, take a bus instead of a rental car, cook with a small stove, save water and drink from the source rather than a plastic bottle, or, heck, if we are intrepid adventurers we hitchhike, camp and couchsurf our way to everywhere, bathing in the river using a small piece of organic soap, eating raw food and telling folks we meet about this lifestyle that is a curiosity now, but a necessity tomorrow.

Chuckle over the irony here as I provide you with loads of “resources” to get you started on non-destructive travel:

Food
You should consume local food, preferably produce that needs little water and fertilizer. Avoid meat and processed food. Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables. Say no to herbicidal gene-crops, do eat fermented food. Prepare food in large quantities in advance to reduce energy consumption.
Here’s a collaborative list of Organic Farmer’s markets in Australia, Canada, South Africa, UK, US
See also http://www.ifoam.org/.

Here’s a fun footprint/foodprint calculator, showing you how many acres it takes to support your lifestyle, and how many planets it would take if every human being would live your standard of living: http://www.footprintnetwork.org

Shelter
Couchsurfing all the way! For those worried about CS going corporate, check out the alternatives (bewelcome, hospitalityclub, wwoof, workaway etc). Spread the message of non-destructive traveling as you travel by convincing your hosts. Use blankets instead of room heating, sleep in one room and don’t heat the other. Sit in shade and do not use air-con. Cook together.
For high-end travelers, research an eco-lodge and demand solid environmental impact data before spending the night there.
For low-end travelers, information about where it’s safe to camp outside is easy to find, and a survival handbook on your e-reader (see below) can be very useful.

Move
Try to avoid flying. Long-distance buses are the champions of fossil fuel efficiency, and flexible to organize, but you can easily go beyond that.
Try joining as a crewmember on a yacht (google’s a good resource) or start browsing “Couchsailing” (!)
Hitchhiking will never be the same with hitchwiki.org and hundreds of blogs by experienced hitch-hikers like
followtheroad.com. Blogs about bicycle trips crossing the Americas from Anchorage to Ushuaia or Africa from Cairo to Capetown, or Eurasia from Paris to Beijing are easy to find and provide a great resource, even if you only go part of the way.
Or just walk, here’s the longest possible road to travel on foot: http://www.odysseyxxi.com/

Entertain
Buy an ebook-reader! Virtually everything published more than 70 years ago is freely at your disposal in PDF format through www.gutenberg.org. Also create wiki-books of open-source travel guidebooks like wikitravel.org. You have all the distraction you need, e-readers don’t consume any paper and hardly any electricity, especially if you use a portable solar charger.
If carrying books: exchange, swap, share! It’s a great way to connect and spread the vital message of non-destructive traveling.

Suggestions are welcome, and could you share this non-destructive post, please?

Advertisements

June 23. Lobbying for a good cause.

We wait in the lobby of the Hilton hotel for her. It is a landmark here in Hua Hin and we figured a suitable place for a meetup. We have a look around and see the tourists munching, swimming, relaxing, reading, drinking – this is many people’s idea of paradise. We could have jumped in the pool with them, who cares “hotel guests only”. When she shows up, we are cheerful. Meredith is very friendly. We have a good talk about the possible cooperation of couchsurfing and volunteering platforms, and we learn that it is important that couchsurfing remains independent, and won’t easily affiliate with other platforms. I understand and know what to do to spread our concept. Thanks Meredith!
I pick up Hornby’s “Juliet naked”, because I know Hornby and the praise on the cover seems genuine. It’s an okay book if you like romanticising about forgotten eighties rock stars.

We catch the overnight train to Hat Yai, the infamous border town near Malaysia. The AC in our compartment is freezing cold, as if the villain in a James Bond movie has opened a critical valve full throttle. I crawl in my sleeping back and give Yeon the jacket, and dream away.

June 23. Lobbying for a good cause.

We wait in the lobby of the Hilton hotel for her. It is a landmark here in Hua Hin and we figured a suitable place for a meetup. We have a look around and see the tourists munching, swimming, relaxing, reading, drinking – this is many people’s idea of paradise. We could have jumped in the pool with them, who cares “hotel guests only”. When she shows up, we are cheerful. Meredith is very friendly. We have a good talk about the possible cooperation of couchsurfing and volunteering platforms, and we learn that it is important that couchsurfing remains independent, and won’t easily affiliate with other platforms. I understand and know what to do to spread our concept. Thanks Meredith!
I pick up Hornby’s “Juliet naked”, because I know Hornby and the praise on the cover seems genuine. It’s an okay book if you like romanticising about forgotten eighties rock stars.

We catch the overnight train to Hat Yai, the infamous border town near Malaysia. The AC in our compartment is freezing cold, as if the villain in a James Bond movie has opened a critical valve full throttle. I crawl in my sleeping back and give Yeon the jacket, and dream away.

June 13. One sunset at Longbeach please. Takeout? No, to see here.

The neighbors let me in and after a few attempts I can reach my host on the phone. She comes quickly and we laugh about the situation.
“Don’t worry”, I say, “I’m glad I have yet another funny story to write about.” (and to learn from it myself, but that I don’t mention. Actually, we’d seen the movie “Anger management” with Jack Nickelson and Adam Sandler the other day and I felt great to have the opportunity to put it into practice. So if you would have been in Mexico City that night, near the crossing of Felipe Villanueve and Tetrazzine, you would have heard me singing “I feel pretty” while walking nervously in front of that cold closed metal door. The door was green).
“Don’t worry”, she says, “everything is alright now and you are going to catch your flight.”

That’s what I do. Comfortable transportation to the blah and airport terminal blah where I go through the customs and have my temperature measured with some high-tech equipment a man in a wheelchair operated and blah I fill in some customs slips and check in my luggage, have a meal blah before I board flight MEX902 which is about twenty minutes late. I see an older woman in a wheelchair being checked thoroughly. They go through her suitcase with swift gloved fingers, messing up her most private belongings. They cram everything back in and command her to roll on. Such a disgrace. And so pointless! You know what? An old hipster with some latent anti-American thoughts, an unkempt pirate beard, a band on his head to protect his salty sweat from running into his critical eyes, and a computer full of highly explosive material – they let him pass after only a short glance at his bag.

In the air. Typing these lines. What are they worth? Nothing. They cannot be sold and therefor form an ugly proof of our infinite value as human beings. The free Tequila-orange juice they serve here in Mexicana at thirty thousand feet might be the foundation of wackier thoughts. Hold on.

I am almost denied access to the United States because I forgot to fill out the online form to apply for the visa waiver program. The big black guy at the entrance desk tells me this is my first and last warning. Thank you, I say, and wish him a nice day.

My couchsurfing host, Jawn, takes time to show me around even though he has been ill the last couple of days. We drive in his blue mini to see sunset at Longbeach. Wait a minute… are we doing this? It’s so unreal. It’s phantastic, amazing, awesome, I’m here just seconds after I spend a night behind a curtain in the booth of an appartment guard in Mexico city, enjoying the sunset with a friend. I am so fond of it I might have fallen silent. We have dinner with two more friendly couchsurfers (there is the pleonasm again), Rachel from northern California and Raoul from India in a nice Greek restaurant.

June 13. One sunset at Longbeach please. Takeout? No, to see here.

The neighbors let me in and after a few attempts I can reach my host on the phone. She comes quickly and we laugh about the situation.
“Don’t worry”, I say, “I’m glad I have yet another funny story to write about.” (and to learn from it myself, but that I don’t mention. Actually, we’d seen the movie “Anger management” with Jack Nickelson and Adam Sandler the other day and I felt great to have the opportunity to put it into practice. So if you would have been in Mexico City that night, near the crossing of Felipe Villanueve and Tetrazzine, you would have heard me singing “I feel pretty” while walking nervously in front of that cold closed metal door. The door was green).
“Don’t worry”, she says, “everything is alright now and you are going to catch your flight.”

That’s what I do. Comfortable transportation to the blah and airport terminal blah where I go through the customs and have my temperature measured with some high-tech equipment a man in a wheelchair operated and blah I fill in some customs slips and check in my luggage, have a meal blah before I board flight MEX902 which is about twenty minutes late. I see an older woman in a wheelchair being checked thoroughly. They go through her suitcase with swift gloved fingers, messing up her most private belongings. They cram everything back in and command her to roll on. Such a disgrace. And so pointless! You know what? An old hipster with some latent anti-American thoughts, an unkempt pirate beard, a band on his head to protect his salty sweat from running into his critical eyes, and a computer full of highly explosive material – they let him pass after only a short glance at his bag.

In the air. Typing these lines. What are they worth? Nothing. They cannot be sold and therefor form an ugly proof of our infinite value as human beings. The free Tequila-orange juice they serve here in Mexicana at thirty thousand feet might be the foundation of wackier thoughts. Hold on.

I am almost denied access to the United States because I forgot to fill out the online form to apply for the visa waiver program. The big black guy at the entrance desk tells me this is my first and last warning. Thank you, I say, and wish him a nice day.

My couchsurfing host, Jawn, takes time to show me around even though he has been ill the last couple of days. We drive in his blue mini to see sunset at Longbeach. Wait a minute… are we doing this? It’s so unreal. It’s phantastic, amazing, awesome, I’m here just seconds after I spend a night behind a curtain in the booth of an appartment guard in Mexico city, enjoying the sunset with a friend. I am so fond of it I might have fallen silent. We have dinner with two more friendly couchsurfers (there is the pleonasm again), Rachel from northern California and Raoul from India in a nice Greek restaurant.

June 11. Wasn’t there this swine-flu thing?

A scary but improbable continuation of this blog:
Walking through the ancient Aztec town of Teotihuacan, he feels a light pain in his forehead and a nasty caugh deep down his throat. Yes, he has read the newspaper and he knows that the WHO has just increased the pandemia level to six, and that’s as high as they go. He has seen the restaurant and ticket office workers wearing mouth protection, and he remembers the old man with his terrible caugh on the bus two days ago. What if I have swine flu, he thinks. What if, of all the tourists traveling in and out of Mexico, I have the bad luck of catching the flu? So he thinks while walking on the Calle de los Muertos, the four kilometer main axis of the Aztec city. Will they thoroughly examine me, put me in quarantine? Or would this string of the influenza virus make me sick so quickly that I won’t make it out of the country alive, hee thinks. How terrible. He must go back to the city, try to find some tamiflu do they have enough? Do they have enough portions for everyone? But the virus will continue doing its destructive work if you only fight the symptoms. He will get sick very soon now and throw up and get all green and magenta and yellow he will suffer terribly for two days and then die anonymously in a quarantined cold hospital bed, surrounded by curious scientists fervently taking notes in their inmaculately white little notebooks.

The real continuation:
The visit to the Aztec ruins is great. Take a bus (33 pesos) from Central del Norte which will bring you right to the entrance of the park in about an hour. The park entrance costs 51 pesos like all other major AAA-rated sites (including Chitzen Itza and Palenque). Ascending the temple of the sun is worth the effort. It’s a steep climb but the reward is rich. You look out over the green hills of the region and the temple of the moon. The sun-temple was for Tláloc
the water god, according to recent research. That explains the ten feet moat around it and the child burials (the water deity was seen by the Aztec as the womb of new life as well as the passage chamber to eternal life).
There is an interesting museum about the mural paintings they’ve excavated here and some smaller temples off the main archeological site that are definitely worth a visit too. I feel like a young Aztec man and imagine how I would have lived. It’s my favorite activity around ruins. I do it all the time: you already caught me doing it in the ancient Maya world. Being on the same spot as those great civilizations stimulates my fantasy. The experience of those naked and silent stones, those huge piles of stones, those big timeless soothing stones: that’s the reason I’m here.

My friend Kenya shows me some pretty fragments of her city before we crash the couchsurfer’s party, that is really nice. My hypothesis that all couchsurfers are friendly gains some strength. I mean, you cannot go like this:
A: All couchsurfers are friendly
B: Socrates is a couchsurfer
C: Thus Socrates is friendly
but you can be pretty sure he would be. I doubt if Socrates would couchsurf, but that’s another story.

Helsinki #1. How to grow a Swede.

I got up at 6am (why do I write the ‘am’? Getting up at 6pm is not really about the kind of trip I’m making), so got up at six, slipt slyly out of my bed, packed my back, left a thank you note for Ellu on the table, took a banana and sneaked out of her flat. Then I walked to the port to embark on my ferry to Helsinki. “C-terminal”, where I erroneously believed to be headed, was not that well-known among local’s. Even after showing my left hand with an A and a B stroke through and a C with the hint “Sadam” (port in Estonian) she nodded and said something about Centrum. Although I had lost my map, I still knew where I had to go, and I arrived at the A-Terminal (the right one) on time.
About the “Sadam” thing I made a little joke. It goes like this: We can be lucky that George W. Bush is so stupid to be totally ignorant of every other country, otherwise he would have know that there is something called “Sadam” here – and he would most likely have bombed it.

After half an hour observing other people in the terminal, among them a group of metal tourists with black clothes, I entered the vessel. I went to the upper deck immediately, and I saw the sun rising, and felt alive. A group of Chinese woman were taking pictures of themselves, one of them awkwardly holding a SLR-camera with a huge objective reversed in front of her for a self-portrait against a rising helios, so I offered them a little help. But I don’t seem to have put many buttons there, since I was ignored. It didn’t bother me, since the upper deck was almost empty and I photographed the rapidly brightening morning sky.




On the boat I saw something that I’d never seen before, and that really scared me off: the bar was actually… barred. And since I had made no use of it whatsoever, I didn’t find it obvious that a bar was barred – that it was in fact more like a cage. There must be savages on this boat, I thought, that rampage the interior, driving up the prices except for the 8am ferry. There must be ferocious drunks feasting on ethanol and trying to slaughter the bartender, who would probably hide in his cage, reluctantly giving out vodka to hairy claws through the steel bars and wait until the ferry would finally reach the save haven of Helsinki or Tallinn Port Areas. I heard stories about wacko’s doing crazy things on Scandinavian ferries, and I saw the group of heavy metal guys wreathed in dark gowns – connecting those facts I uttered a short “mmm” before laying down for a while.

There is another anecdote. In Tallinn, I read René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, kindly shared by Ellu, and read about his claim that the sacrifice is fundamental in any religion, and learned about the concept of the surrogate victim, essentially a victim that represents the Father of the clan, but chosen randomly. The play is, Girard claims against Huizinga (homo ludens) not the most fundamental thing, it is originated in religious rites, which are really the very basis of human society. They introduce the aspect of randomness, of choosing the surrogate victim. Canelos-Quichua Indians in Ecuador use dice, and Oedipus, Girard reminds us, is the sun of Tyche.
Hence, gambling is not just a secular practice, but in essence a religious way of dealing with the world. The dice were the voice of the goddess, and quite opposed to being a sin, gambling was understood as a sacred practice. With that in my mind, I heard the rattling slot machines on the ferry, and I had some thoughts that entertained me.

So I arrived in Helsinki, and walked around for a while. People were much friendlier than I thought on the ferry. The famous Esplanade, a showcase park, was interesting. They have a statue of Runeberg, the national poet, and it said due to the scarcity after the war in 1918 they temporarily converted it into farmland, and actually crew potatoes, cabbage and swedes instead of roses. The “swedes” (koolraap in Dutch) thing is particularly noticeable, concerning the fact that the Finnish, a people of some 5.2 million, gained independence from the Swedes only in 1809 (next year big party!), had than been under Russian rule for about a century and finally gained independence in 1917. Aware of this history of Big Neighbour Domination, I looked at the city a bit differently, and walked a few blocks down.

In the Kamppi, a well-known shopping complex (they have a lot of them here), I sat down in a café, observing the working class Finnish, and dozing away – until the waitress woke me up and persuaded me to put a double espresso into my veins. I woke up, asked some guy to use his mobile phone, and got in touch with my host from Couchsurfing, whose address I finally found on the map (ä is not a). I walked around a little and went into a tiny bookstore, where a very kind woman welcomed me in English. I asked her if she had a Finnish phrasebook, but she didn’t. Then she offered me to write some handy words and phrases down. I still have that paper, and I used it several times. She was so kind. So here is the Finnish I promised her to memorize:

“Anteeksi, puhotteko Englanti?” Sorry, do you speak English?
“Saisinko kolme olut.” Three beers please!
“Minun nimeni on…” My name is…
“Kiitos” Thank you
“Päivää” / “Hei” Good day

After a nice conversation with the shopowner, who had studied linguistics, sociology, history, anthropology among other things, I walked again for half an hour – in the wrong direction. I went into a coffee bar with very friendly guys, who offered me pastry on the house. They were not Finnish, but from Morocco and Brooklyn, New York. The NYC-Guy told me his family opens new cafe’s every few months, and move on once they are profitable. The one in Helsinki went quite well, he told me.

It was time to go to the place of my Couchsurfing host. He was very friendly and we chatted about his job as a computer programmer (I studied something like that in my former life). He explained to me he was writing a compiler in C++, overriding the vector of the STL for optimization purposes, coding an API and a VM. It understood some of it. His company intends to sell the language that would eventually produce code for mobile phones to Nokia – the nr. 1 corporation by far in Finland, and pretty inevitable for employees in the technology field.

Late at night we saw this Japanese animation film, spirited away, but we stopped it in the middle of it because the subtitles disappeared.