Whatever you may think of Christmas, something shifts in the air when December rolls around. In the Northern Hemisphere Christmas ushers in crisp skies and bright winter stars and the smell of freshly cut pine needles. In the South, summer breezes and surfing and swaying palms might welcome the holiday season, the air heavy with the sizzling aroma of BBQs.
Wherever you live, Christmas is also trees with heavily-weighted branches and houses that heave beneath blinking lights and tons of tinsel. Sadly, this seasonal bling carries a hefty environmental price. It brings out the old arguments in the Great Christmas Tree Debate – artificial or natural? – and a cascade of seasonal information about the impact of the season’s packaging, transport or waste.
Christmas also fuels a race for the biggest, best and brightest illumination, as recent as the artificial materials and modern inventions required to make Uncle Harry’s blinking penguin and strobe-light igloo visible from space.
Imagine yourself astride a magnificent Arabian horse, his mane blowing in the wind and tickling your hands as they hold the elaborately tasseled reins, your eyes falling on the magnificent sight of the Pyramids of Giza looming before you. This is the sort of horseback riding experience that’s meant to be savored for a lifetime.
Now imagine that the reins are attached to a bit that fits uncomfortably in the horse’s mouth. He shifts from side to side to take the weight off of his painfully overgrown hooves. He hasn’t had adequate hay for days, or possibly even weeks. And he’s been beaten to force him to perform. The experience doesn’t sound so ideal anymore, does it?
As responsible travelers increasingly eschew attractions that profit from captive animals, the tide is slowly shifting towards an industry that favors viewing animals in their natural habitats. Companies like Sea World are seeing their business models crumble, and attractions like Thailand’s Tiger Temple watch their visitor numbers decline steadily as people become more and more committed to ethical practices regarding the exploitation of animals.
Unfortunately, for domestic animals like horses, things widely remain unchanged. It’s easy to see that a dolphin in a tank a caged tiger are in unnatural, uncomfortable surroundings. But, for the layperson, it’s not as readily apparent when a horse at a tourist attraction is unhealthy, in pain, or lacking basic care. When tourists choose an irresponsibly managed horse activity, they may unknowingly be contributing to improper care or abuse of these amazing creatures.
If you’re considering joining a horse tour or taking a horseback ride during your travels, these are a few simple ways to tell if the horse you’ll be riding is properly cared for. And choosing a responsible horseback riding tour can make all the difference between perpetuating the cycle of poor horse management or ensuring that the horse will enjoy the experience just as much as you do. Here are a few tips on what to look for:
I saw them before I even stepped off the stage after my Opening Keynote session at TBEX Cancun with Dr. Martha Honey. More than a half-dozen employees of Dolphin Discovery– the dolphinarium that offered “Swimming With Dolphins” tours at the Moon Palace Resort– stood in a semicircle, looking uncomfortable, waiting for me to wrap up my conversation with another blogger so they could chat with me about what was being called “Dolphingate.”
For those who missed the drama, in July it was announced that the tours being offered to travel bloggers attending the TBEX Conference included a “Swim With Dolphins” tour at a Cancun dolphinarium. Blogger Matthew Kepnes called for a boycott of TBEX, with hundreds of other bloggers and concerned travelers signing his petition. TBEX honcho Rick Calvert was unyielding and unapologetic, saying that bloggers should behave like journalists and make their own decisions. We eventually entered the fray (which we were unaware of because we’d been traveling, and had not planned to attend the Cancun conference) and convinced Cancun Tourism to cancel the tours.
In the midst of the controversy, we were invited by TBEX to appear alongside Dr. Honey– founder of the Center for Responsible Travel– in a keynote session to discuss ecotourism and responsible travel issues, including dolphinariums and other animal attractions. Manuel Garduno (Manager of Marine Mammal Operations), Michelle Madueno (Manager of Education & Conservation), and several other members of the Dolphin Discovery staff were there, with “Debunking the Myths About Dolphins in Human Care” brochures in hand, to invite us to tour their facility and learn why not all dolphinariums are created equal.
How could we refuse?
One of the biggest problems we encounter when we tell people that our site focuses on Ecotourism is that a lot of people actually have no idea what Ecotourism is.
Even when we explain that it’s relatively synonymous with buzzwords like “sustainable travel,” “responsible travel,” or “green travel,” there are still a lot of misconceptions, even among experienced travel industry veterans.
For people outside the travel sphere, the word Ecotourism seems to conjure up images of camping out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nature, cooking everything over a campfire and using some sort of ancient herbal remedy to keep the bugs away.
And technically, yes, a trip like that could fall under the umbrella of what Ecotourism is all about, which is traveling in a way that respects (and hopefully benefits) the nature, wildlife and indigenous culture of a place.
But the truth is that Ecotourism is ultimately more about a philosophical ideal than a specific style of traveling. It encompasses experiences that run the gamut from rustic to elegant, from budget to luxury. And one of our favorite forms of Ecotourism, known as Glamping, offers the best of both worlds.
Our modern lives tend to generate large quantities of harmful carbon emissions, whether through pollution caused by automobiles or through the process of generating electricity. The UK alone generates an estimated 7.9 metric tonnes of carbon emissions per person per year, much of it the result of power generation.
With energy prices rising and fossil fuels in increasingly high demand, finding cheap alternative energy sources may seem like the most important answer. But it’s also important to look at ways you can reduce or offset your carbon footprint.
Did you know that some hobbies can actually help you cut down on the amount of atmospheric carbon you generate, while others can actually offset some of the emissions? Here are a few suggestions for fun past times that are actually good for the environment: