Eco-Destinations

 

Travel and tourism is the number one industry on earth, with 700 million people spending $2-3 trillion on their trips annually, says Costas Christ, senior director for ecotourism at Conservation International (C.I.). At their destinations, this results in over-consumption of energy and water, disruption of local cultures and pollution of land and marine ecosystems, as Worldwatch Institute reports in State of the World 2002. (Cruise ships alone dump 90,000 tons of sewage and garbage into our oceans daily.) Surely there must be a lighter way to vacation. There is. Ecotravel, or ecotourism, now represents about 2 percent of the industry. At present, there is no single international regulatory or certifying agency, although The International Ecosystem Society (TIES), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Rainforest Alliance and others are exploring models. Criteria published by TIES in 1992 include: sustainable site development and building materials; renewable energy sources; largely organic and local food; recycling; not harming local flora and fauna; hiring local labor and management. Also important, says Megan Epler Wood, a founder and past president of TIES, is that the businesses have a nonprofit arm that pumps money and resources back into the local community, so that “local people can be the stewards of their own land.”

How to Minimize Impact

Learn about your destination and the customs of its people before going there. Resorts that bill themselves as eco-sensitive should live up to that name. Habitat should not have been disturbed to build the resort; nor should it sit close to bodies of water, which can be contaminated by waste water. Alien plants and animals should not be introduced—forget the African wildlife adventures in Hawaii! Water and energy should be conserved and recycling/reuse should be incorporated. Guests can do their part by not demanding unlimited hot water or enough power to run hairdryers or electric shavers—after all, they’ve come for the natural experience!

Follow guidelines set by your ecotour guide to minimize impact, such as staying on paths (it’s safer for you, as well!) and not gathering plants, touching wildlife or making noise. Do not touch or walk on coral reefs: The sensitive coral animals—and the wildlife that live on reefs—can be bruised and killed, and stirred-up sediment can choke them. Never litter—pack out everything you carry with you. Along popular Himalayan tourist routes, including the ascent to Everest, litter has become a heaping problem.

If you go whale watching, make sure to confirm that the tour boat will shut off its engines when whales are sighted, and not approach them—it should be up to the whale whether it stays close enough to be watched.

Support locally-owned businesses that employ local staff; buy locally-made arts and crafts. Make generous donations at national and state parks and reserves. Because of pressure from the tourism industry, for example, entry fees to wilderness parks in Costa Rica only cover 25% of the high cost of maintaining and protecting these areas. Source: The Green Guide Institute, thegreenguide.com

Casa Grande Mountain Retreat
—A PLACE WHERE PARADISE BECOMES REALITY

For an exotic location that’s close to home, why not consider Puerto Rico? This picturesque mountain retreat is a converted coffee plantation—big enough to offer all the amenities you’re used to, but remote and intimate enough for anyone wanting solitude and a relaxing escape.

Set in a stunning valley on 107 lush tropical acres less than two hours from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Casa Grande Mountain Retreat is an oasis of peace and tranquility. The lovingly converted coffee plantation, now exquisitely landscaped with lush tropical gardens, has 20 private cabins in 5 raised wooden buildings scattered up the mountainside, each with private modern bath, balcony, and hammock. A fresh-water swimming pool is cradled beneath an emerald green mountain vista. A fully equipped Kripalu-certified yoga center is used for individual and group practice. The onsite restaurant serves healthy local and international dishes. Although small by some standards, Casa Grande enjoys an international clientele and nature lovers find their way to “The Casa” from points near and far. Casa Grande is a virtual botanical garden. Throughout the property are both landscaped and wild areas where fruit trees and tropical and exotic plants abound and over one hundred varieties have been identified. Sightseeing, hiking trails and kayaking on Dos Bocas Lake are nearby, or spend the afternoon in your private hammock with a good book.

Call toll free 888-343-2272 or hotelcasagrande.com.

Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center
—AN OASIS FOR AWAKENING

If a life-transforming desert experience is what you want, Tree of Life has much to offer. You can take classes in live food preparation, learn sustainable gardening and farming, or transform your life with sacred ritual, live food gourmet cuisine and mind-body-spirit education.

The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center is a spiritual center that functions as an “Oasis for Awakening”—committed to the healing and awakening of consciousness within the individual and the world community. This simple, close-to-nature, ecologically- sustainable retreat is nestled on a 166-acre, sacred, high desert mesa in the pristine mountains of Patagonia, a rural art town in southern Arizona. The ongoing “Tree of Life Experience” program celebrates ecological living, holistic healing, vegan live-food nutrition, vegan organic gardening, whole person education, and a cross-cultural way of life, helping individuals heal and detoxify from old lifestyle habits, addictions, and fears.

The Whole Person Healing optimal health evaluation is a fully integrated holistic program of nutrition, lifestyle change, and natural supplements that bring body-mind-spirit into greater balance and harmony. This powerful foundation for healing and awakened living includes daily gourmet, organic, Kosher, vegan-vegetarian, live-food cuisine created and prepared by the artistic chefs at the Tree of Life Café, Yoga, Pranyama (breathing awareness), Sunrise and Sunset Fire Ceremonies & Meditations, World Peace Meditation, live-food preparation and spiritual gardening instruction, hiking, and Labyrinth walking.

Call 520-394-2520 or www.treeoflife.nu.

Reality Tours
—AN INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE PROGRAM FROM GLOBAL EXCHANGE

Expand your horizons, venture into unknown territory and experience another culture firsthand on your next vacation. “Meet the people…learn the facts…and make a difference.” For more than 16 years, Global Exchange’s Reality Tours program has been an innovator in the field of socially responsible, educational and alternative travel. Their specialized vibrant journeys around the world are designed to meet high social and ethical standards while providing a transformational learning opportunity.

The typical participant is deeply concerned with the state of the world, curious about other nations and cultures, and wants to examine the real implications of US policies. Reality Tours offers programs in 30 countries and works with a diversity of coordinators and in-country organizations and operators to create unique programs that are engaging, inspiring and fun. The experience deepens a connection to the human community and furthers an understanding of important personal issues.

Participants experience true “people-to-people” ties; the importance of diversity and geographical place; travel as educational adventure and cultural immersion; and a tour that takes comfort and safety seriously—for a great value. Such exotic locations as Ecuador, Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Cuba, Cambodia, India, Russia, Tanzania, South Africa, and Ireland are offered.

For more info, visit globalexchange.org or call 800-497-1994.

Sanoviv Medical Institute & Health Retreat
—AN INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL CENTER

For serious healing, a comprehensive health assessment or detoxification experience, Sanoviv is a world-renowned, state of the art medical and research facility located on the Pacific Ocean. Sanoviv is a toxin-free, breathtakingly beautiful, licensed medical hospital and health retreat with highly experienced, internationally trained medical professionals committed to treating your whole being: mind, body and soul.

Sanoviv, located in Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico, is a modern, oceanfront holistic health center and hospital. A world-class integrative medical facility for maintaining health and treating degenerative illness, Sanoviv offers programs from the signature “Complete Health Assessment” (four nights, encompassing medical, dental, psychological and fitness evaluations) to the “Intensive Medical Program” for serious disease (three weeks or longer). A comprehensive synergistic program of detoxification and cleansing includes diagnostics, medical treatments, nutrition, exercise and bodywork. “Whole Body Medicine” techniques are personalized, such as state-of-the-art diagnostics, non-toxic medical treatments, IV supplementation, meditation, yoga, psychotherapy, world-class mercury-free dentistry and organic live foods and juices while conventional medical services could include such things as standard clinical labs, ultrasounds and surgery. To complete the experience, a full service European spa is available onsite.

The entire facility was built with non-toxic materials, and was reviewed by Dr. Christiane Northrup in her February e-Newsletter at www.drnorthrup.com. Many more details and a variety of medical case studies on cancer, heart disease, Lyme disease, Parkinsons, autism and chronic fatigue are available through their website.

Visit sanoviv.com or call 800-726-6848.

Green Tips for Green Trips

Are you planning a environmentally conscientious vacation? “You’ll first need to realize that you are essentially a guest in another ‘home’,” says David Weaver of Ecotourism. “It’s about keeping an open mind and taking an outward, rather than inward, approach,”

Know before you go: Learn all you can about the place you plan to visit. Find out about the history, culture, language and natural environment of your destination.

Keep your eyes open: If you come across a wasteful or damaging practice, tell the manager why you will not use the service again,and let others know as well. The reverse holds true for good products and practices.

Spend wisely: To ensure that the community benefits from your visit, eat regionally grown foods, use public transportation and buy handmade souvenirs. Do not purchase goods purchased from endangered species.

Respect the culture: Be especially sensitive to customs related to religion, photography and tipping. Check with local authorities for guidelines before visiting natural areas and cultural sites.

Leave no trace: Dispose of trash properly. Limit the number of disposable products you use.

Know your operator: If you sign up for a package tour, make sure the company can support its claim of ecological awareness and sensitivity. For more ideas, contact The International Ecotourism Society at 202-347-9203, or visit ecotourism.org. Cruise Ships Cruise ships—the fastest growing segment of leisure travel—leave behind plenty of nasty debris in their wake. In his book Cruise Ship Blues (Consortium, 2002), Ross Klein exposes the darker side of cruising. A typical cruise ship carries 2,000 to 5,000 people and is essentially a mini-city. On land, an operation of that size would have to answer to the Environmental Protection Agency on standards such as sewage treatment, but cruise ships are exempt, most sailing under the foreign flags. An average vessel generates 30,000 gallons a day of raw sewage, which can be dumped straight into the ocean as long as it’s more than three miles off a U.S. shore. Royal Caribbean International estimates that on a seven-day cruise, a ship produces 141 gallons of photo chemicals, 7 gallons of dry-cleaning waste, 13 gallons of used paints, and 3 pounds of medical waste. That doesn’t include 255,000 gallons per day of gray water, carrying chemicals and detergents into the sea. Over the years, cruise lines have been fined millions of dollars for illegal dumping, yet penalties have not led to any dramatic improvements. These floating resorts also have less-than-perfect records on customer friendliness; in fact, cruises can be downright hazardous for passengers and on-board staff. The close quarters can harbor illnesses like the much-reported Norwalk virus, a transmittable gastrointestinal ailment. Cruise ships have also been called “sweatshops at sea,” regularly employing low-paid on-board staff who frequently work eighty hours a week for ten or twelve months straight. Because many ships are registered in countries such as Panama and Liberia, cruise ship workers are functionally exempt from labor standards, environmental regulations, and tax codes. Disappointed? You still might be able to take that cruise of your eco-dreams if you do your homework and ask questions. Take a look at Ross Klein’s website, CruiseJunkie.com, for updated information on cruise industry developments regarding labor, the environment, ship safety, and security. For updates on campaigns that regulate cruises, see bluewaternetwork.org. You can also check out respected organizations such as World Wildlife Fund and National Geographic, which offer smaller scale but sustainable and nature-oriented cruises. By redirecting your travel dollars toward more mindful operators, you’ll send a message that all cruises should have a conscience.

Adapted from Organic Weddings: Balancing Ecology, Style, and Tradition by Michelle Kozin (New Society, 2003).

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