Shifting toward a sustainable approach to life, for many, has all the upsides associated with Sisyphus's rock rolling curse. But hey, you are really trying. You are sorting your trash, trekking to recycle what is not handled curbside, taking your own bags to the market. You even switched to a renewable energy provider, began patronizing sustainably minded businesses, now opting for the train or your bike when heading to a buddy’s house. You carpool to work, you became packaging conscious, started turning your lights off and your thermostat up, all on top of your work and social schedules. You are nothing if not beat. And now, it’s time for a vacation, a break from your normal reality but, do you throw caution to the wind and leave all these nice new habits on the airport shuttle bus or do you load this hefty dogma into your no-longer-included-in-the-price-of-the-airline ticket suitcase and take it on vacation? Well yes, sort of.
Hang with me.
Keep in mind that the Travel industry contributes enormously to the global economy, brings millions of people and places together like no other form of discovery and does so 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Of course, any enterprise with a global footprint has its costs. Travel depletes natural resources, creates carbon and in many cases minimizes the local culture where travelers descend, offering little more than misspent dollars in return.
Truth is, you can go on a magical journey, escape the routine AND maintain a certain level of sustainability consciousness. By joining a relatively new culture of traveler, the Eco-Tourist or Eco-Trekker, you can still have (someone else bake) your cake and eat it too.
Take a trip to http://www.ecotourism.org the web home of the International Ecotourism Society and you can quickly embrace the depth and breadth of the industry through their simple yet well-defined mission:
TIES promotes ecotourism, which is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people," by:
• Creating an international network of individuals, institutions and the tourism industry;
• Educating tourists and tourism professionals; and
• Influencing the tourism industry, public institutions and donors to integrate the principles of ecotourism into their operations and policies
Additionally, TIES clearly defines the principles of Ecotourism:
• Minimize Impact
• Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
• Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
• Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
• Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
• Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
Happily, for the eco-conscious traveler and the planet, there are a host of vacation styles and destination choices. Some follow the mission of TIES to the letter and provide a multifaceted educational travel experience akin to enlightened cultural archaeology. Others, including a few mentioned here and owned by the folks at: http://www.enchanting-group.com/ have a less visible approach to the stewardship of their region. In lieu of complex standards of operation and construction protocol, creating and then defining the vacation, they rely, quite successfully, on their natural surroundings coupled with a bygone era approach to experiential travel. In essence, people are the reason to be, place is the reason to be together. Harmony in fact, is at the core of their mission. In addition to their biz PR, head over to: http://www.ecotrotters.com/ to learn more about the eco-travel community from its members.
Now, Where To?
For the sake of brevity, I will be shedding a bit of light on a favorite zone in Mexico, Tulum and a few of its earliest eco-tourist destinations. In fact, this part of Mexico has been in the eco-travel business long before there was an eco-travel business. Although just a few kilometers from the mega, all-inclusive resorts of Cancun, Tulum is in a world all its own. Fronted by the cool green waters of the Caribbean and sheltered from the warmer inlands by dense, cenote filled jungle, Mayan cultural history is rich and extremely accessible here.
This is a veritable wonderland of escapist delights. Hedonist and minimalist peacefully coexist in this nearly off-the-grid playground. Life here is centered around the ancient ritual of relaxation followed by hours of beachfront horizon-gazing broken up with periods of siesta and dashes of intellectual pursuit, all with the intent of storing energy to be spent with kindred spirits over handmade margaritas. Ecotourism, a monastic existence, is not.
The best way to experience eco-travel is sans incumberance although a bit of careful planning is required. As such, my suggestions for a care-freely-green getaway:
Hitting the Trail:
Depending on your personal MO: with kids or not, romantic getaway or learning journey, make reservations at Azulik, Copal or Zahra, all eco friendly properties sharing common ownership and common hectares. Visit: http://www.ecotulum.com/ for the perfect beach town experience. Think beachfront yurts and cabanas with sexy outdoor soaking tubs fronting pristine beach (one is clothing optional). Off with the travel clothes and into the suits, pronto! Sneak an eco-peek here: http://www.youtube.com/user/EcoTulumEnchant#p/u/4/aApURUPYmAg
Pack Light (and Lights):
Standard beach travel protocol applies: sandals, comfy sneaks, and swimsuits are the order of the day. Toss in a Guyabera or two and shorts for the gents. Ladies, it’s sarongs and tunics and a strappy pair for a possible night out. Note: barefoot dancing is the way to roll. Think eco-tourist not eco-purist.
Here’s where the eco starts to kick in:
Everything here is designed to tread as lightly as possible, not only on the environment but also on the soul, all the while ensuring a sense of belonging.
The property is designed to encourage and support a mission of harmony, of unity. The architecture and design promote low-key interaction at meals and encourage community. In all respects, a balance is maintained between private and public spaces.
No buzzing leaf blowers or whirring a/c units to distract from the natural sounds of the region. No ornate landscaping to be manicured, no large-scale fitness center to heat and cool. No chlorine filled pool, no wastefully produced hotel baubles that will likely be discarded once home. Beach and cabana towels, although available from the staff, are not stacked, by the dozen, at every turn. Each of these easily unnoticed details are all coordinated to minimize environmental and social impact. Even your room has a simple padlock, no plastic card keys to find their way to landfill.
EcoTulum resorts consume a bare minimum of electricity. Generator and solar power keep the necessities alive during the day; candles and a few batteries, coupled with the sea breeze keep you going at night. Even the restaurants cook largely over open flame or gas fired grills. Fear not, this contributes greatly to the romantic, cozy and ethereal vibe of low-impact beach life. Walking from cabana to beach along candlelit pathways is a dream come true. If you are fortunate enough to be there during a full moon, voila, no candles but, bring a pocket flashlight just in case. Oh, and a lighter as you will light candles nightly in your cabana…generously stocked by your hotelier.
Keep it simple. Feet and bicycles rule yet, cabs are plentiful, both motorized and rickshaw. You are on an eco-friendly get away, after all. Not to fear, if you want to roll with a tad more freedom, let your hotel arrange a daily rental car.
Get Some Action
Remember, this is about living, learning, supporting and truly enhancing local culture and community. Leaving no waste behind and consuming little more than one must while there is at the core of your adventure (Of course, one must consume margaritas, no?)
Plan a trip, a morning departure is preferable, to the Tulum ruins: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/mexico/tulum just a few kilometers away. You can learn about Mayan culture and sunbathe on the milk-white beach.
To get to the heart of the eco-matter, visit the Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an: http://www.cesiak.org/ , 1.3 million acres of protected biosphere including 23 known archeological sites, countless plant and animal species and nesting ground for two endangered turtle species.
Now hit the web and make those reservations, confident that all the big sustainable questions will be quietly answered behind the scenes, freeing you to relax!
Take it easy, deep exhale, be the slow vibe. Swim, stretch, read, and nap. Then, when your trip is almost done, load a bit of this newfound behavior into that travel bag and, once home, integrate it into your life. Don’t forget to share. This, in fact, is the basis for any sustainable way of life, on vacation or at home. The simplest approach is often the most efficient, the most respectful of place, and the least wasteful in terms of resources being tapped. Always has been.
Hang with me.