Two major problems I’ve seen in most impoverished countries are insufficient construction and severe environmental concerns. Guatemala, my home for four of the last seven years, is no stranger to these issues. But, that’s not to say no one cares.
Not only does Guatemala contend with massive litter problems, chemical runoff in its lakes, and no organized recycling system, but Guatemala City also houses Central America’s largest landfill. To compound the problem, an entire community survives by finding recyclables in the dump, living on food waste, and building homes out of unsanitary materials.
Even away from the landfill, many homes and public buildings, like schools, are a mishmash of scavenged cinder blocks and scraps of tin. My second year living here was spent volunteering for an NGO, Las Manos de Christine, that assists a small public school in the village of El Hato, only a few miles outside of Antigua, the country’s pristine tourism capital. It was in trying to build a new English classroom in El Hato that I became aware of some of the awesome ecological building projects happening here.
I was standing in front of the sink of a shared bathroom in Puerto Viejo. Ten years before, when I first visited the same town, the only restaurant was a lady selling chicken from her own kitchen, a couple tables scattered on the porch, and it must have gotten business because the shared kitchen at this hostel still had all of one knife, no handle, and an assortment of about five broken pots and pans to accommodate a sleeping capacity of well over a hundred people. Now, there was a restaurant down every alleyway, all of them paved instead of dirt, and I counted something like three supermarkets, twenty-six hotels, fifty-seven souvenir stalls, and one first-rate bakery within a two-block radius.
For the moment, though, I was brushing my teeth at an hour a little earlier than normal for the patrons of this particular hostel, which had a nightly bar centered on an ice chest. There was no mirror to watch myself, usually an unattractive circumstance anyhow, so I scrubbed while reading a flyer posted next to the sink. It was about the ills of fluoride. With a mouth full of foamy chemicals that were no doubt killing me, I decided then and there, even if this hostel probably wasn’t the marquee place to seek medical advice, it was time make a change. Toothpaste had always been a problem anyway.
April 22 is Earth Day, an initiative originally conceived in 1970 to raise global awareness about environmental issues worldwide.
Calling for “a billion acts of green” in 2015, this annual day of support has grown rapidly over the years. Gradually, awareness about our collective responsibility to live sustainably seems to be taking hold. This year Earth Day events will take place all over the world to promote the idea that we should be protecting the environment in every way we can, and the responsible travel movement in particular has been gaining speed in recent years.
But we shouldn’t wait for Earth Day to start being conscious of our impact on the planet. There are a huge range of little things that everyone can implement into their daily lives and travel routines to start making a positive difference. For the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, here are 45 simple going green tips for travelers wanting to make a difference, both at home and abroad.
I’ve been traveling slowly for the last ten years, so clearly I’m partial to it. But I also believe I’m an astute observer of why it works well. So, at the risk of provoking controversy, I’ll just come right out and say it: I think Slow Travel is the way everyone should see the world.
It’s admittedly easier to say this being the homeless drifter that I am, with no mortgage to speak of, no kids to support and nary a “real job” to contend with. But regardless of these financial ties or career commitments, I believe slow travel is generally the best way to go. And I’m here today to give you eight reasons why.
Before we start, perhaps a brief discussion of what Slow Travel means is in order? It means not trying to stuff a million activities into an itinerary (or not even having an itinerary). It means not constantly moving from place to place, whether that be sights within a city, cities within a country, or countries within a continent. It also means literally transporting yourself from one destination to the next with no regard for the amount of time it takes.
Some time ago I came across Ava Chin’s book about urban foraging, Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love & the Perfect Meal.
Foraging is the practice of gathering wild foods. While it sounds romantic, it’s actually a skill that one has to learn and practice. Once learned and practiced responsibly, foraging is a sustainable practice of connecting your plate to the environment you live in.
Ava Chin, who lives in New York City, was the “Urban Forager” columnist for the New York Times from 2009 to 2013. I sat down to talk with her about her book, the basics of urban foraging and how newcomers can learn some simple tips on how to eat wildly.