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Could the grass really be greener?

A crash course in the basics of eco-travel…

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Back in July of last year, I had the chance to spend a few days in the Peruvian Amazon, in the area known as Madre de Dios, or ‘Mother of God’. Located in the south-east of the country bordering Brazil and Bolivia, this is said to be one of the richest habitats of biodiversity on the continent, as well as being a serious contender on the world stage. We stayed at a lodge named Explorer’s Inn, one of many in the Tambopata Reserve upstream of the regional capital Puerto Maldonado, although this was one of the first. These lodges pride – and sell – themselves on being ‘eco-friendly’ and the ‘eco-experiences ‘ they offer, yet some are more truthful than others.

Although our time in the forest was a tranquil, rejuvenating few days, three months across the continent had taught us that there were plenty of other ways to go green, not all of which you had to pay for. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that although there are many wonderful sounding and probably fantastic eco-trips available around the globe – many of which can only be accessed through professional guidance – the everyday traveler or tourist can still make a difference through smaller steps, especially those on a budget. Having an environmental conscience shouldn’t cost a penny – in fact it should save you far more!
The main aspect of travel that gains the most criticism and attention for damage to the environment is obviously transport – from the resources used to the pollution produced. Although it’s a serious issue, and I don’t mean to discredit it in any way, let’s face it – people (especially us students) are going to continue to fly and bus and drive, and are going to contribute to this problem. So to me, the logical step would be to acknowledge that, but then try to take action to reduce your overall carbon footprint. Considering that there were over 5,000 miles and an entire ocean between London and Rio de Janeiro, I figured the only way I could realistically get there in decent time was to fly. Yet once we were on the continent, my friend and I spent the whole three months travelling by bus, all the way to our final destination of Lima. It’s not a particularly difficult feat and I don’t mean it to sound moralistic, but it meant we avoided flying, got to see more of the landscape, and saved a considerable amount of our funds – though on one particular 27-hour behemoth, I seriously began to doubt my sanity! Although we didn’t get around to trying it, hitchhiking – all risks considered – and lift sharing are often popular, and can often produce as intriguing contacts as they do tales.
Equally important to the basics of green travel is the awareness and respect of your surroundings. In many, many areas of the globe, recklessly profit-driven ‘tourism’ is eroding all manner of attractions, from natural wonders to human triumph. Being aware of an area and its people, and the environment which they inhabit, is important, as well as the groups or individuals that run tours or businesses. Some take more care than others, and will make an effort to preserve and respect the area, often if they are local. Others may not mean to cause intentional damage, but through lack of training or knowledge can cause more harm than good. On a more personal level, I like to think that I try to take the smaller steps to leaving a place how I found it, for the next person to enjoy as much as I did. Especially in another country, and another culture, it seems only fair not to interrupt the processes that occur – otherwise what are we left with, aside from a vague copy of a place we already know.
Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time – unless its your carbon footprint, then you should probably decide on a different motto.

by Dafydd Haine

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