Welcome to the inaugural post for our ‘Thinking Outside the Cube’ blog series! Nearly 10 months ago we both left our jobs in the Napa Valley to travel the wine regions of the world. We realized that this trip was going to be more than a post-graduate trip to Europe, but closer to a graduate program in wine, something we are both passionate about.
Since then, we have had the great pleasure of meeting other like-minded individuals traveling in all corners of the world for a reason…a deeper purpose. With this series, it is our hope to share the experiences, realizations and thoughts of fellow long-term travelers in hopes of inspiring others to Think Outside the Cube!
Dave and Anna of Permacyclists are two such travelers, visiting and filming environmental organizations around the world to discover how they can make a positive change for the planet. Their writing is biting and honest with each place that they visit and despite some of the real discoveries that they make, they always seem to find humor with each experience. We were fortunate enough to locate them in Costa Rica and asked them a few questions about their purpose for traveling, what they’ve done and what they plan to get out of their experiences.
1-What were you doing before you started this trip?
Before we started traveling, Anna was working as a criminal and immigration lawyer in Brussels, and Dave was working as a journalist and travel writer. We’d been living in Brussels for three years by then, but we had always known we would move on to travel, and that it was only temporary. After Anna discovered that she didn’t like being a lawyer at all, we set our departure date for pretty much as soon as possible after she finished her contract, leaving on our bikes to pedal to London, where we caught a plane to Nairobi to begin 16 months cycling in Africa. The plan had been to cycle around the world visiting permaculture projects, but after 16 months on the road, we decided we needed to do more, that the problems of the world are too big to just keep traveling insouciantly as if nothing is wrong. And so that’s how we started our new project, traveling by bus now from New York to Rio, with the goal of arriving in time for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012. On the way we are making videos and writing articles about small grassroots environmental organizations, with the goal of profiling their work and inspiring others to take similar actions. The truth is that the solutions to all our environmental problems exist, the only thing that is missing is for people to step up and start taking action, so that’s where we hope to be useful.
2- What inspired you to travel specifically for the planet?
We’ve both always been interested in the environment and nature, and part of our trip was always to seek out beautiful natural places. And of course we knew about problems like climate change before we set out, which was why we had set ourselves the project of visiting permaculture farms. Permaculture is a sort of ultra-sustainable agriculture that we had studied when we were back in Brussels. The more we traveled though, the more we saw that the environmental problems are far beyond just agriculture. We were shocked to see even in Africa, the least-developed continent, that deforestation, desertification, drought, invasive species, and other serious environmental problems were everywhere we looked. It was then that we read the book “Eaarth” by Bill McKibben, and learned that climate change is a far more imminent threat than we imagined. To read that book, while cycling along the coast of Mozambique for instance, where rising sea-levels and increased severe storms are clearly going to wreak havoc on the local people’s ability to survive, was a real awakening for us. At that point, we knew we had to do something, and well, this trip was the best we could come up with I suppose!
3- So far on your trip, where have you been able to affect the most positive change?
An interesting question! We wonder sometimes about how much we contribute and how much we are just a burden to the people we meet. We do hope we help though. We have come to realize that as travelers who have now visited a wide variety of projects, each with its own ideas and strengths and weaknesses, one of the easiest ways we can make a difference for the projects we visit is as a connector to others who are doing similar things. We visited a very cool environmental education project in Nicaragua for instance, and they were trying to build a park for kids from entirely recycled materials but were a bit stuck looking for ideas. We had also visited a project in Mexico who have built an incredible recycled park though, and so we were able to show the Nicaraguans the work of the Mexicans which got them very excited. At the same time though, the Nicaraguans were financially self-sustaining through eco-tourism, and we knew that a big frustration of the Mexicans had been that they hadn’t been able to earn enough money and had to rely on donations. And so we then put the Mexicans in touch with the Nicaraguans so they could swap ideas on that too. The reality is there are so many people out there who are working so hard that they don’t have time to network or meet others, and so just a traveler passing through with a good address book and lots of photos can make a real contribution to the work they do.
4- How have your own experiences changed your view of the current state of the environment?
As far as the current state of the environment is concerned, the more we travel the more concerned we are. The reality is that the problems we face are far more serious than most people realize. The planet is at the breaking point, and a traveler with some experience and knowledge of environmental subjects, who knows what to look for, will see evidence for that everywhere.
There is of course another side to that though, the side of all these wonderful people doing amazing things to make the world a better place. When we meet them, we feel so positive it’s ridiculous. Their good work is infective, we get excited and want to share what they do with everyone. With both these reactions, it’s hard to say sometimes what we think will happen. Is it too late? Are we all screwed, or are we going to make it? It’s impossible to know for sure, though the one thing that is certain is that there is no way we’ll make it if everyone doesn’t get up and do their part. We all need to start getting angry, to start getting active. Once that happens – and there are some signs that it is happening – then we’ll stand a fighting chance for sure, and we may have a very bright future ahead of us here on the planet Earth.
5- This trip will obviously change you deeply. What do you want to take away from this trip and what do you hope to do after you return home from this trip?
Our hope for after the trip changes constantly! We have no concrete plans. We just hope to arrive in Rio and make it through the Rio+20 summit feeling like we have made a positive contribution. After that we expect we’ll settle down for a bit and find a way to start our own project, a way to put all these amazing ideas that we’ve been accumulating into action. Where that will be and what it will look like we don’t know. But you’re right that this trip will change us, it already has, probably in more ways than we realize even.
Dave and Anna, thank you so much for your participation and thoughtful, thorough responses! You can follow their footsteps and more at: www.permacyclists.com