Ecotourism Meets Cultural Heritage

For some travelers, sun and fun on a popular beach surrounded by creature comforts, modern amenities, and easy accessibility to restaurants and shops is their idea of vacation. More and more people, however, are hoping to truly experience something unique in a place that is hard to get to, that is surrounded by sites and sounds entirely different than the familiarity of home and that involves a certain degree of adventure.  Ecotourism is a way for people to really capture the pulse of a place and to discover the spectacular wonders of the natural environment.  When I am in Dominica, I am always amazed at the sounds of birds at dawn and at dusk, I find peace in the quiet solitude of a mountain overlooking the sea, I feel the exhilaration of jumping into a crystal clear river and I tap into my sense of adventure with a hike through the cinematic rainforest.  Exposure to these kinds of special experiences is the real magnetism behind ecotourism.  Additional value comes in the preservation of the environment, the economic benefit to indigenous people and the introduction of guests to the cultural heritage.

Dominica is perhaps the greatest location for ecotourism in the entire Caribbean.  It’s biodiversity is still intact and the cities have not been overdeveloped like other places of tourism.  For that reason Dominica is often a destination for reality TV shows that showcase adventure travel, secluded resorts or extreme competitions.  I have literally hiked a jungle trail, swam up a river gorge to a waterfall, and relaxed on a black sand beach all in the same day.  You can easily experience a whole lot with a vehicle and a roadmap, but if you hire a local guide for the day you get the backstory to everything that you are witnessing.  For example, you can travel to the village of Belles and hike the trails carved out by the maroons who had escaped into these forests during the days of slavery.  An African chief name Jacko was the pioneer and leader of an entire encampment in the rainforest.  Large steps, some three feet high, gave them an advantage over the French and English soldiers who had battled over this island for years.  Ruins of military fortifications still exist in places like Cabrits National Park near the village of Portsmouth.

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Dominica also offers the opportunity to connect with the living history of the Kalinagos, who are the largest remaining colony of Carib Indians in the world.  Travel to their territory, taste the cassava-coconut bread, watch them make wooden boats by hand, purchase some of their intricately woven baskets and if your timing is right you can experience some of their cultural celebrations that reveal ancient dances and traditions.  Their everyday lifestyle already reflects principles of sustainability and their new developments are considerate of these same values.  Their cultural center, for example, is running on electricity generated by solar panels.  I had the opportunity to meet the Kalinago chief and he said he would welcome the opportunity for university interns to come and help them develop new strategies that generate employment for their mountain community.

These days, information about cultures, cuisines and customs can be found on the internet and television, but it is so much better to encounter the people for yourself and enjoy a great big world beyond the screens that are always in our faces.  I encourage you to discover Dominica at least once in your lifetime.

Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

Week 1& 2 in Iceland

After staying in Tampa nearly one week, I finally arrived at this place, a place I thought it was covered by ice and so cold that hardly to find people to travel here. But it is not the truth. There are so many tourists come to visit Iceland or set the Iceland as their first stop for European trip. The landscape here is so broad and wild. Plenty of land without any buildings or people. Long, long grasslands and very cloudy. Empty and fresh. Iceland has super strong wind that probably can blow me up or down. I couldn’t sleep well this week because the wind at the night was so crazy.

From a hill to see whole village
From a hill to see whole village

I met a Germany girl and she is also doing volunteer in eco-village. She spent whole night in airport just for waiting me (really appreciate it). She is so nice and friendly. We took the bus to get to the village and because of her, I had my first experience to hitchhiking in Iceland.  Hitchhiking is so popular in Iceland that tourists always get a ride for their trip to save money. The weather last Friday was so so so nice, compared with recent windy, wet and rainy days.

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Cool and Nice Friends

I live with other volunteers/interns and we share the living room, and a super small kitchen. Each person has their own private room and bathroom. People plant herbs in living room that can just pick up for cooking or tea. We can buy vegetables and other stuffs from the store in this village. The things in this store are almost organic and green products that purposely selected by the staff. Each volunteers/interns has their own credits that they can shop in this store and do not pay anything until they use all of the credits. Volunteers/interns have to work at bakery, kitchen, sustainability center, greenhouse with community people from Monday to Friday. We only have day off on weekends. Those works are real physical work. I did guesthouse and bakery this week. I did the cleaning and all the laundry for guesthouse from Wednesday to Friday. Also, I helped bakery on Thursday, a lot of washing, packing and cleaning. So tired.

But they also have internship program that almost for students from all over the world, studying and living in this community and they also have tours around the Iceland. You can find more about CELL Program through this link: http://www.cellonline.org/programs/study-abroad-program/

It is a community and claims to connect with locals and people in community. But they are also careful about the negative impacts on those home-people and disabled people. So the office staffs told us to keep a certain distance to the people in community. The unique thing in this eco-village compared with others is its social aspect, the powerful connection between community. They always put the benefits of those home-people and disabled people at the first place.

Every morning, there is a morning meeting that all the people stand as a circle, hold the hands and sing the song together. It is really powerful for me when I did first one on Tuesday. You can feel the power and warm through your body. Really touching.That’s the traditional habit in this community to connect with people. Recently I start to realize why they prefer the interns/volunteers staying longer in this village, because the longer you stay, the deeper you may connect with community. It needs the time to know those people and truly feel the spirit of this eco-village.

European did really good on recycling. Those strict recycling process in daily life kind of makes me crazy at the first time. So clear and so specific.

Trash bans in BSI Bus Station
Trash bans in BSI Bus Station
Trash cans in front of the volunteer's house
Trash cans in front of the volunteer’s house

The really interesting thing I found from recent days is people still do not care about the resources, especially for those guests/visitors. Waste is still common during their stay, even thought they are living in this sustainable community. Of course, everyone cannot be purely sustainable, same as me. We all have those “lazy” days or moments. But renewable resources do not mean we can keep wasting. This village probably needs more tags or labels to remind visitors.

Iceland gives me a great opportunity to think about the next things I want to do. Also, a good chance for me to learn from others and re-think about myself. It is so so so hard in China to find a place that no one in the road. Enjoying the empty. I was standing in middle of the road during a raining day, breathed the fresh and pure air, talked with horses even though they did not understand me, or maybe they understood me.

Friday night, I had the first chance in my life to see the Northern Lights. It was so beautiful and magic. Those green lights danced in the sky and changes quickly. I tried to catch those moments and want to share with others, but it’s so hard through camera.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights

The second weekend, two friends and I rent a car and we drove to Vik, the south town in the Iceland. We spent an awesome weekend. We did some hiking and saw so many pure and beautiful views in Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss
Good Weather and Great Companies
Good Weather and Great Companies
Vik
Vik & Black Sand
Skógafoss
Skógafoss
Skógafoss
Skógafoss

Iceland is an incredible place that people here respect Nature. It is also the safest country that travelers and backpackers always hitchhiking to their destinations.

Eco-village in Iceland

Solheimar Eco-village is located in a suburb area that probably one hour drive from the capital Reykjavik. The nearest town is Selfoss. It was founded by Sesselja Hreindís Sigmundsdóttir in 1930. A great woman who was working on social aspects, like helping children and disabled people through almost of her whole life. Solheimar, the Icelandic meanings is “home of the sun”, same as its logo. Solheimar is a sustainable community, especially focusing on social aspect. Green housing, gardening, composting, energy saving, water saving, recycling, community connection…It seems like Solheimar has many of sustainable measurements we learned from our class and they are all applied very well.

Solheimar Ecovillage
Solheimar Ecovillage
Enjoy the Empty in the Road !!!
Enjoy the Empty in the Road !!!

You can find more cool things through the following video, which just made by one of the interns. She is from U.S. and two years ago, she was the student of CELL program (the internship program that Solheimar works with The Center for Ecological Living and Learning. Focusing on studying, staying in Solheimar community and having tours in Iceland).

They have a long history of hosting volunteers that from all over the world. The internship program, especially the CELL program, is just started for several years and will keep developing. They provide a good opportunity for people to connect, work and learn during their stay in this village. It is also a tourist attraction. Each year, there will be about thirty thousand of people coming to visit, especially in Summer (from June to August).

A Sunny Day
A Sunny Day

Sesseljuhús Environmental Centre, also the Sustainability Center, is the reception center of this village. It is definitely a green housing without LEED certification.It is the first modern building in Iceland without PVC. Every materials they used were selected carefully. Trying their best to use as much as natural resources as they can. The siding of this building are wood from beaches in Iceland. Natural Ventilation system, which air comes from a tower and goes into mechanical fans and exits out from roof vent. The sewage system of toilets separates the wastes that are composed naturally and go back to ecosystem finally.

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Tracking energy use of Sesseljuhús Environmental Centre
Sesseljuhús Environmental Centre
Sesseljuhús Environmental Centre

Of course, we cannot forget the geothermal energy. Heating system is applied in whole village, the same as this green building. Also, solar panels are applied in this building to power the house. A small wind turbine also produces the energy for this green build and whole village, even though they are very small. The main power for this village comes from the grid that is powered by a dam. They also have the system to track the energy produce, from the solar, wind and grids.

Small wind turbine
Small wind turbine

Green roof, cellulose insulation can be found in this building. Sesseljuhús Environmental Centre definitely a hot spot in this village.

Solheimar has one of the largest greenhouses in Iceland to produce vegetables for themselves and other areas around the Iceland. It also produces arts and candles. There are many workshops in this village for visitors. Volunteers will work with people in this community, like home-people and disabled people. In Solehimar, everyone should be equal and respected.

Very specific recycling system in this village. Food waste, cans, plastics, papers, glasses, general wastes are divided very carefully and strict. This eco-village has a big compost area. I heard it is “crazy”. Probably will check it out one day.

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Recycling bans—so specific

Currently, this eco-village is famous in European areas. They want to go abroad and wish more and more visitors will come to visit and stay with this community. So they hope I can help them.

There are two tasks for me during my internship. One is helping them get more connections from the world. The second one is helping them or improving their current ecotourism. Hopefully I can make a help.

This is the blog for introducing this eco-village. I will show more my own feelings and experience in next blog.