57+ Countries, All Important, But A Few Favorites

Stelios Trilyrakis, the chef behind Ntounias in Crete, pats one of his heritage cows, a rare Cretan species called Gidomouskara. SteMajourneys

I have a longstanding habit, in an article like this one listing travel experiences including 5. Savor an Unforgettable Lunch at Ntounias in Western Crete, of skimming to find whether the writer(s) have been to anywhere that I know firsthand; if they write something meaningful about a place I know, I read the entire article. These days I have less interest in going to places I do not already know (between 57 and 60 countries where I have had meaningful experiences, ranging from a few days to living there for a year or more).

When I see Crete, I am all in, for reasons I have made plain previously. In this case I want to abandon all responsibilities and get on a plane.

Since that is not possible I am left to desk-travel, which is what I did to learn more about this place. I see now that on the two occasions when I have mentioned Xania I have spelled it two different ways. With the X my spelling was transliterating into English the letter used in the Greek alphabet for spelling that town’s name; otherwise the dipthong of Ch is necessary to produce the sound of the Greek letter that looks like an elongated X. Now that I have excused my spelling discrepancies, and daydreamed of a meal on the island of Crete at a later date, I will get on with my responsibilities.

Wonders Of The Yucatán

In Calakmul and elsewhere, the fierce jaguar was worshiped as a deity. Ancient rulers and warriors adorned themselves with the animal’s skulls, skins, fangs and claws. Adrian Wilson for The New York Times

Several months ago when we confirmed our plans to attend a wedding in Merida, Mexico on November 5, Calakmul came to mind. We had already explored many famous Maya sites in Central America, most recently in Belize, not to mention Mexico, over the last three decades; and we have also been fortunate with big cat sightings.

We decided against extending our stay, choosing to spend a few days in Mexico City instead (I have been obsessed with Barragán in recent years, so seeing his former home and workshop there was a must). Charly Wilder‘s article in the New York Times, which I am only seeing now, makes me wonder when we will return to see what we neglected in the Yucatan:

The number of jaguars is growing in Mexico, especially in areas of the Yucatán Peninsula. Patryk Kosmider/Getty Images

Thanks to Mexican conservation efforts, the jaguar is making a comeback in the Yucatán Peninsula. A traveler ventures into its habitat in the tropical jungles surrounding an ancient Maya city.

From the top of the great pyramid of the ancient Maya city of Calakmul in the southern Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, you can see all the way to Guatemala. The jungle stretches out infinitely in every direction, an ocean of green punctuated only by the stepped pyramid peaks of two other Maya temples. Continue reading

Preservation & Protection Via Gamification

Incentives to behave differently in relation to the environment is a constant topic here, but we have not used the word gamification before. Today is finally the day. Thank you, Lindsey Galloway:

Palau’s world-first ‘good traveller’ incentive

Responsible travellers will be able to unlock exclusive cultural and nature-based experiences (Credit: Colors and shapes of underwater world/Getty Images)

In a world-first initiative, visitors to Palau will be offered exclusive experiences based on how they treat the environment and culture, not by how much they spend.

Despite being home to fewer than 20,000 residents, the Republic of Palau is making an outsized impact to preserve the planet. Not only did the country Continue reading

Altered States & Perspective On Nature

Illustration by Ian Mackay

Matthew Hutson, who only recently came to my attention, has shared a story about a brief bit of inspired clarity in How I Started to See Trees as Smart that I find compelling. Not everyone can do what he has done to get this clarity, but isn’t that one of the great reasons to respect writers? If the subtitle triggers any bad memories you might have from your own experience with hallucinogens, try to get over it and read on. Reference to The Soul of an Octopus early on will calm any wobblies. The final paragraph, and especially the final sentence, are worth arriving at:

First, I took an acid trip. Then I asked scientists about the power of altered states.

A couple of decades ago, on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada, I was marching up a mountain solo under the influence of LSD. Halfway to the top, I took a break near a scrubby tree pushing up through the rocky soil. Gulping water and catching my breath, I admired both its beauty and its resilience. Its twisty, weathered branches had endured by wresting moisture and nutrients from seemingly unwelcoming terrain, solving a puzzle beyond my reckoning. Continue reading

Camping, The Book Review

A recent book by the historian Phoebe S. K. Young explores what, exactly, camping is, and how the pursuit intersects with protest culture, homelessness, and identity. Illustration by Sally Deng

We have not featured much on camping recently, but some old favorites come to mind when reading this book review titled The Confounding Politics of Camping in America by Dan Piepenbring:

For centuries, sleeping outside has been embraced or condemned, depending on who’s doing it.

By the eighteen-seventies, the society pages of Scribner’s Monthly could no longer hide it: the “American pleasure-seeking public” had run out of places to seek their pleasure. Summer after summer, vacationers resigned themselves to “broiling in a roadside farm-house” among the “odor of piggery and soap-suds.” Or they visited costly resort towns, finding “more anxious swarming crowds than those left behind.” Continue reading

Organikos In Antarctica

A bag of Organikos coffee, geisha whole bean, with Antarctica in the background

On Sundays I try to stay away from the Authentica shops in order to do other types of work. But on a recent Sunday morning we needed to deliver coffee that had just been roasted to the Belen shop. While bringing the coffee in, a man was poring over the labels in our honey display. My conversation with him started on the minutiae of how these raw honeys are prepared, and extended for more than an hour to the subject of the current coffee harvest. When I told him about the recently introduced geisha varietal, he enjoyed hearing as much as I enjoyed conveying its phenomenal success in Panama first, and now Costa Rica. And so, yesterday, he sent the photo above as promised, holding a bag of our coffee in front of the Antarctic coast, where he is on a scientific expedition.

Organikos served coffee at the southern most tip of the South American continent a dozen years ago, and I am happy to see its reach extending further south and keeping the scientists warm and happy.

Is The Tiger Trail Concept Replicable?

A ranger, on the lookout for illegal poachers and loggers, logs an early-morning report before returning to the Koh Kong ranger station.

When we first learned of it, we wondered why this concept was not implemented in more locations with similar poaching problems. Now we see it:

Inside the Campaign to Save an Imperiled Cambodian Rainforest

Deep in the Southern Cardamom Mountains, former loggers and poachers have assumed new roles as protective rangers and ecotourism guides. Can their efforts help preserve a vast stretch of wilderness?

We were seated near a lush river in the Southern Cardamom Mountains, huddled over a lunch of chicken and rice, when the tip came in via text message: Someone had passed along the location of a poaching camp. Continue reading

Year 9, Day 365

Seth’s photo of the view from the hill at Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua

Today marks ten years since the first post on this platform. Seth’s description of a crab-eating little possum wandering by as he was reading, and a sloth-sighting together with two people visiting Nicaragua from the USA, reads like an entry in a travelogue. A later post about boarding down a volcano was the most viewed post of the first year.

Seth sandboarding down Volcán Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

A man named Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru, was on a hunger strike to protest corruption when Michael, a senior at Amherst College, landed in India to begin an internship

Michael’s first post likewise starts as a travelogue, but veers into different territory as he reads the news about two men who are sacrificing comfort, and even life, for causes they believe in. The post goes on to identify drinking water as a cause worthy of the reader’s attention. Over the course of his time with us in India he wrote some of my personal favorites. He helped me better understand that the value of the internships we offered were as much about personal growth as about work experience.

Within a few years, permits could be issued for commercial miners hoping to harvest the submerged wealth of the sea. Illustration by Sophi Miyoko Gullbrants

A decade was set in motion. This is our 10,286th post. Whatever meaning might be drawn from statistics, such as 827,462 views of our posts as of this writing, I find reasons to continue what those two started. Every day a bird is featured, thanks to Amie’s network of bird photographers. And every day I scan the news to share something enlightening, or I jot a note about a new idea we are trying out, always related to causes we care about. Today, on this rounding out of a decade, I mark the occasion by sharing the latest publication of a writer whose work rarely makes me happy but who I nonetheless link to often as a head-out-of-the-sand gesture:

The Deep Sea Is Filled with Treasure, but It Comes at a Price

We’ve barely explored the darkest realm of the ocean. With rare-metal mining on the rise, we’re already destroying it.

June 14, 2021

The International Seabed Authority is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, in a building that looks a bit like a prison and a bit like a Holiday Inn. The I.S.A., which has been described as “chronically overlooked” and is so obscure that even many Jamaicans don’t know it exists, has jurisdiction over roughly half the globe. Continue reading

Cycling With & For Monarch Butterflies

Sara Dykman biked from the monarchs’ overwintering grounds in Mexico to Canada and back, covering a total distance of 10,201 miles in 264 days. (Timber Press)

We have featured the plight of monarch butterflies plenty of times on this platform. And bicycle travelogues feature, together with bicycle activism, even more frequently. Today, at the intersection of butterflies and bicycles, we thank Sara Dykman for writing and Smithsonian for publishing this travel-with-a-cause story:

BIKING 10,000 MILES WITH MONARCHS

I set off to be the first person to cycle alongside the butterflies to raise awareness of their alarming decline

Dykman works in amphibian research and as an outdoor educator. (Tom Weistar)

The idea to bike from Mexico to Canada and back with the migrating monarch butterflies arose from a simple wish to visit them. In 2013, crossing Mexico by bike for the first time, a friend and I entertained the idea of visiting the monarchs at their overwintering sites. Because it was April and the monarchs had already begun migrating north, we decided to forego the side trip.

I spent the next few years idly daydreaming about returning. Continue reading

Above The Northern Ice

Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Quince Mountain

One year ago, when I first encountered Blair Braverman, I did not follow through to find out more. It is easy to remember why because it was the last stretch of pre-pandemia, and it was the last time I travelled, and that last portion of February, 2020, remains vividly clear in my memory.

As it happens this morning, exactly one year later, we are getting on an airplane and traveling from Costa Rica to Ithaca, New York where we will spend a few days taking care of some paperwork that is a legal requirement for operating our businesses in Costa Rica. I would not get on an airplane right now if it was not a legal requirement, and while we are taking all possible precautions it would be impossible not to have the obvious concerns. In that context, hearing Blair Braverman talk about her work in an odd way has a calming effect. And given that yesterday I was reading about life under the southern ice, it is fitting today to share some perspective on life above the northern ice. Click the image above or the title below to go to the podcast for a half hour of pure escape.

Lessons on Resilience From Dogs and Dog Sledders

The adventurer Blair Braverman has led a team of sled dogs over a 900-mile race in Alaska, seen her skin dissolve in the desert and overcome Covid-19. What makes it all less terrifying? Accepting the unknown. Continue reading

Decades, Fruits & Labor

In mid-June the first personal reflections of our interns–the original purpose of this site being an opportunity for 20-somethings to reflect on conservation-related work in countries other than their own–will be 10 years old. Seth still contributes when his schedule allows. Michael does not, but one of his posts is the one I share most often with prospective interns as a benchmark for writing about their work experiences. To my eye, the early posts have aged well. We had one not-yet 20-something also contributing at that time; his writing at 17 (and his photography) matches the extraordinary experiences he was having.

The fruit in the image above is from trees planted 10 years prior to our starting to post on this platform, and so the fruits of our labor planting citrus 20 years ago gives me a few hundred reasons to be grateful. This is the fourth and final wheel barrow full of various types of oranges and limes, and in addition to drinking plenty of juice in the last month I am freezing many gallons for the remaining summer months.

Great American Rail-Trail

The U.S. Is Building a Bike Trail That Runs Coast-to-Coast Across 12 States

Lehigh Gorge State Park with River and cyclist on Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail path, Poconos Mountains, near Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Jumping Rocks / Universal Images Group / Getty ImagesBy Natalie Marchant

Thanks to Natalie Marchant for this news posted on EcoWatch:

The U.S. Is Building a Bike Trail That Runs Coast-to-Coast Across 12 States

The Great American Rail-Trail will be almost 6,000km when complete, and will serve 50 million people within 80km of the route. Continue reading

Chance Meetings On Journeys

Whether you ride a bicycle or not, the story below is a perfect discovery in the final days of 2020. It was published in March and presumably Kim Cross wrote most of it prior to the pandemic becoming a focal point of life for most people in the world. It is a reminder of the randomness that comes with nomadic life, in my case best exemplified by a chance encounter at an airport in 1983. It is also a reminder of a bicycle journey Amie and I took in 1988, prior to my starting graduate school, which is a welcome reminder considering the stationary nature of our lives since March.

We were completely inexperienced at distance riding, but going from Missoula, Montana to Jasper, Alberta still seemed like a good idea at the time.  And it was. The first couple hundred miles, until we got to Going-To-The-Sun Road, were strenuous but not beyond our capacity. Then, that road made us wonder if we had made a huge mistake. Somehow we made it to the top, with the cheering support of the group we were riding with, all experienced distance riders.

The next 500 miles included plenty of other challenges, including headwinds so strong at the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that we pedaled harder downhill than we had going uphill at Going-To-The-Sun. The support we got from, and brief friendships we made with total strangers on the journey is the reason why Kim Cross’s article resonates. Whether you have lived a nomadic life, or wish you had or could, this story is full of reasons to read. Or just look at the pictures and let your imagination ride:

What Happens When Two Strangers Trust the Rides of Their Lives to the Magic of the Universe

LEON HAD BEEN RIDING WEST FOR 309 DAYS. NOEL HAD HEADED EAST FOR 176. THEIR MEETING IN THE DESERT WAS A SMALL MIRACLE.

Once upon a road in Kazakhstan, two men converge in the desert. Strangers born an ocean apart, riding bicycles burdened like camels, they emerge from either horizon, slowly approaching a common point. Day by day, hour after hour, they make their way through a land as flat and featureless as a page without words. Thousands of miles spool out behind them. Thousands more lie ahead.

One rides east. The other, west. Continue reading

Organikos A Decade Ago & Non-Patagonian Beavers

In a brief interview a student recorded my description of the work I was doing in southern Chile from 2008-2010. The Patagonia Expedition Race had secured Wenger’s sponsorship, and now graduate students from Columbia Business School, as well as from Cornell Hotel School, were developing a strategy for how best to use that sponsorship money to achieve lasting conservation results. The patch on the left arm of my jacket shows another sponsor.

Organikos was a minor sponsor compared to Wenger, but in that earlier iteration of Organikos we were already thinking about what is now the 100% Forward commitment.  As a sponsor, I also served coffee from sunrise to sunset at each station along the Race’s 500-mile route. Somewhere I have photos of the race teams drinking Organikos coffee, but at the moment I only find this one of me prepping coffee in the traditional Costa Rican manner to serve to Race volunteers in a farmhouse where we had spent the night on Tierra del Fuego.

In this photo to the left I was waiting for the racers who would soon be arriving at this station in their kayaks. As serious as I appeared to be, it would take nearly a decade to get that coffee launched more formally into the market.

Images Andrew Wilson, Mark Humpfrey, Nicola MaCleod and Bruce Duncan of Team Helly Hansen-Prunesco paddling their way to victory in stage 15 of the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race on the island of Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. Michael Clark Photography

Not long after the photos above were taken, we accepted a new assignment in India that would put the original idea of Organikos on hold. Recently, when Seth took the name and gave it a clear conservation mission, coffee was still the most viable product to start with. I am reminded of all that thanks to Sandra Laville, and the Guardian. Her article, full of good news related to conservation funding in the UK, triggers my memory of the fact that beavers are an invasive species in Patagonia and the Race had the mission of controlling their spread, in the interest of wilderness conservation. Beavers in their natural habitat are in need of protection in some locations, I see:

Wetlands, beavers and Cinderella causes; the growth of environmental funding

Donations from individuals and charities to green causes more than double since 2016

Funding from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species helped reintroduce beavers in Knapdale Forest in Scotland. Photograph: Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA

Philanthropic donations to environmental causes have more than doubled in value in the UK as the climate crisis and unprecedented biodiversity loss attract increasing attention from individuals and charities.

The amounts of money given to support efforts to tackle climate change and nature loss range from £5,000 to millions of pounds, and the focus of the funding is as broad.

It includes a £10,000 donation given to support a successful campaign for a deposit return scheme in Scotland; the funding of grassroots defenders of Europe’s last primeval forest, in Poland, and the protection of wetlands in Montenegro; and millions of pounds in support of environmental legal challenges and donations to back campaigning against fossil fuels. Continue reading

Farming & Influence

merlin_175042608_2a4dde30-9e9a-43b9-a4ad-6577fd58351c-superJumbo

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Ellen Barry, somehow, has not shown up in our pages before today. Strange, because she was based in India during our years there. Her audio adaptation of a dream-like experience, The Jungle Prince of Delhi, ranks with the best serialized podcasts out there. After her time in India she became New England Bureau Chief of the New York Times, a transition I will presume to understand: India can be so transformative and so profound an experience that landing back in familiar territory is a great next step. And today she shows up on my screen with a topic so different from that, and so related to my recent interests and activities that I finally must add her work to our recommendations:

In a Wistful Age, Farmers Find a New Angle: Chore TV

It’s hard for small farmers to earn a living selling their products. Enter the “farmer-influencer,” who can earn more by streaming farm life, in all its comforting monotony, to a growing online audience.

merlin_175042704_e4edf125-1362-4ae9-a81d-1f4da04cacba-superJumbo

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

PEACHAM, Vt. — The sweet smell of hay rose off the earth on a recent evening, as Morgan Gold strode across his farmyard in heavy boots. He crossed the paddock, scanning for new eggs, water levels, infected peck wounds, rips in the fence line.

But mainly — let’s be honest — he was looking for content.

Though Mr. Gold sells poultry and eggs from his duck farm in Vermont’s northeast corner, most of what he produces as a farmer is, well, entertainment.

Mr. Gold, who is short and stocky, with the good-natured ease of a standup comedian, does his chores while carrying a digital camera in one hand and murmuring into a microphone.

Then, twice a week, like clockwork, he posts a short video on YouTube about his exploits as a neophyte farmer, often highlighting failures or pratfalls. Keeping a close eye on analytics, he has boosted his YouTube audiences high enough to provide a steady advertising revenue of around $2,500 to $4,000 a month, about eight times what he earns from selling farm products. Continue reading

Scientific Expeditions Then, Considered Now

p08j9wrd

The HMS Challenger set sail from England in 1872 and changed the course of scientific history (Credit: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy)

Thanks to the BBC for reminding us of the value of such voyages in earlier centuries, and their contributions to science, among other things:

HMS-Challenger: The Voyage That Birthed Oceanography

The 3.5-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe reshaped marine science and permanently changed our relationship with the planet’s oceans.

p08j9wr9

During the four-year journey, the ship uncovered many new species and shaped our understanding of the seas (Credit: LeeYiuTung/Getty Images)

In the foyer of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, England, stands a ship’s painted figurehead. It towers well above head height and depicts an armoured knight with a silver chest plate, a raised visor and a thick handlebar moustache. The knight’s eyes have a faraway gaze in them – and well they might. This wooden statue is the sole remnant of a square-rigged ship that once embarked on a three-and-a-half-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe, reshaping marine science, unearthing all manner of underwater oddities and permanently changing our relationship with the planet’s oceans. The vessel’s name was HMS Challenger. Continue reading

Field Expeditions, Adventure & Risk

Braverman2-superJumbo

For all the fulfillment we get from our work in remote locations, and especially the wilderness work visits, we are, relatively speaking, conservative conservationists. After casually linking out to this article with references to expeditions, and hinting at our love of adventure, it occurs to me now to put it in perspective. What we do is not like what Roman Dial does. It is not like what Roman Dial Two did. I am sobered by Blair Braverman’s review of this memoir, written with respect as well as unflinching admiration:

His Son Hiked Into the Costa Rican Jungle, and Never Came Out. What Happened?

Braverman1-jumbo

Ben Weissenbach

Years ago, I brought a city friend hiking. We had to cross a river of snowmelt on a cold, rainy day, and though the water normally stayed shallow, it was deeper and faster than I’d ever seen it. I crossed first, testing the depth; I showed my friend how to face upstream, how to unbuckle his pack and use a stick for support. He made his way after me, a wake rising around him, feeling with his boots for solid ground — and he stumbled. For a moment I saw it all play out: him swept away in the frigid water, the near-instant hypothermia, how I’d struggle to start a fire in the rain. And then he caught his footing and came to shore.

Everything’s fine, I told myself that night in my sleeping bag. It’s fine. Nothing bad happened.

Nothing bad happened, but it could have. Continue reading

Citizen Science & Northern Lights

We believe citizen science, in all its forms, is one of the latest greatest innovations of mankind, and here is one more example:

A New Form Of Northern Lights Discovered In Finland – By Amateur Sky Watchers

People in northern climes have long gazed at the wonder that is the aurora borealis: the northern lights.

Those celestial streaks of light and color are often seen on clear nights in Finland, where they’re so admired that a Finnish-language Facebook group dedicated to finding and photographing them has more than 11,000 members.

There aurora aficionados gather to discuss subjects like space weather forecasts and the best equipment to capture the northern lights. Continue reading

Life In Southwest India

Elephants-and-people-co-exist-in-the-Western-Ghats_Sreedhar-Vijayakrishnan_web.jpg

An elephant eats jackfruits in the backyard of a house in Valparai, Tamil Nadu. COURTESY OF SREEDHAR VIJAYAKRISHNAN

Thanks to Yale e360 for this reminder of the amazing nature we witnessed from 2010-2017 while living in the Western Ghats.

The-Anamalai-Hills-shrouded-in-mist_Ganesh-Raghunathan_web.jpg

The Anamalai Hills in India’s Western Ghats region, shrouded in mist. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

The Young Writers Awards, presented by Yale Environment 360 and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, honor the best nonfiction environmental writing by authors under the age of 35. Entries for 2020 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner. Read all the winners here.

Song of the Western Ghats: A Green Island in a Crowded Land

For a young ecologist, the mountains of the Western Ghats are a respite from India’s intense urban life — a lush land of monsoon rains, elephants, king cobras, leopards, and a spectacular assortment of birds — and a place where wildlife and villagers still largely manage to coexist.

Dhole-in-the-dawn_Ganesh-Raghunathan_web

A dhole, or wild dog, in the Western Ghats. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

What is it that draws us to the quiet, to the green? To the mist-curtained mountains, where everything is crystal clear – leaves in high definition even against an overcast sky. Where leopards leave their mark in soft mud, and you smell where an otter has walked. Continue reading