“43/195”. “Just joined the 7 continents club”. “I traveled to 87 countries!”
These are just some of the metrics I often see on social media, indicating this traveler or that influencer have traveled to this amount of countries, boasting to the world their travel prowess. Indeed, the early 21st century has allowed us to travel to farther places of the world than out parents or grandparents could ever dream of. But does quantity= quality here?
In our metrics-oriented society, I would like to suggest a totally different approach to travel. Telling me how many countries you visited tells me nothing of the experiences you had. A day in London means you “planted your flag” and visited the UK? New York City, Orlando and Vegas = USA?
Countries, and some continents consist of arbitrary lines us humans constructed. True, different cultures evolved in different countries, but really – can you compare a tiny nation like Lichtenstein to Brazil or India, in terms of the breadth of culture, nature and traveler experiences?
Almost 20 years ago I spent close to a month in Ireland. It was an amazing experience of backpacking, hiking, hitching rides, hosteling and camping with my good friend Omer. I remember meeting some American tourists who were seeing 7 European countries in like 21 days, and they had a bus-pass and were driving all the way to Dublin to spend two nights there, then off to the next country. I felt sorry for them, and personally I would rather not travel than do such a whirlwind tour. Ireland was an amazing experience of slow travel, tiny villages, windswept coasts, music and pub stories. I really felt I got a small grasp of what the Emerald Island was all about. Never would have seen any of that with two days in Dublin, hopping around the tourist attractions and spending time in touristy bars.
It was the same thing with the first time I visited Costa Rica as a backpacker – I spent a whole month, and fell in love with the country so much, it became the prime destination of Greener Travel, a place I return to over and over.
I would rather “count” experiences in travel, than countries visited or not. I am just not sure yet how to go about this.
What do you think? How would you communicate to the world your travel experiences in a way other than the number of countries visited?
Director, Greener Travel
For Goodness Sake, Don’t Take A Cruise to ALASKA and Other things You Need To Know About The 49th State.Read Now
What you didn’t know about Alaska, but should.
Blogpost originally written by our friend and colleague Tara Short of Green Edventures)
Every time you turn on the TV, there is another reality show in Alaska. As of now, there are over 20 reality shows being filmed there. Despite this, there are a lot of misconceptions about Alaska. Here are some things you should know if you are ever considering going to the Great Land (Alaska is Athabaskan for “The Great Land” – you learned something already).
1. It is not dark all year long. Due to the tilt of the Earth, certain parts of Alaska are dark nearly 24 hours only during the winter solstice. The opposite is true for the summer solstice when certain parts of Alaska are LIGHT for 24 hours. This extra light starts in April and goes until about October. Average day light between May and August is 19 hours in the Anchorage region. That is why Alaska has ginormous sized produce.
The photo to the right is the sun setting over Katchemak Bay at midnight on a summer day.
2. There are no penguins in Alaska. Penguins and polar bears could never live together because Polar Bears would eat all of the penguins who naturally have no land predators. Instead, in Alaska there are puffins where are the northern counterpart to Penguins. These birds are black and white and can dive underwater like penguins, but they can fly too. Not to mention, they are super cute. Here is a link to what Puffins look like.
3. Alaska is not covered in ice all year long. As a matter of fact, their winters are more mild than the Midwest. Average summer temperatures are 75-80 degrees. It is actually getting warmer each year, this is why the glaciers are melting. See my next point.
4. Alaska may be the last place in North America where you can see Glaciers (but not for long). Glaciers are rivers of ice that flow from the mountain tops and terminate in valleys or the ocean. These icy rivers are remnants of the ice age 10,000 years ago. Due to the elevation of the mountain ranges, and a warm water current that passes by the coast, a perfect blend of topography, precipitation and Father Time, has allowed south central Alaska to be one of the most glaciated regions in North America. Photo to the right shows a bright sunny day with Exit Glacier in the distance. 100 years ago, the glacier would have been where this photo was taken and the person taking the picture would have been under 600 feet of ice. Notice the U-shape this valley has? That was carved out by Exit Glacier. I could go on and on about this ONE photo and the information the landscape reveals (see below)
5. A cruise is the worst way to see Alaska! Get a map, rent a car, find a lodge and GO! This is the Last Frontier, you don’t want to see the an icon of wilderness on a floating city with 2000 people or to be shuffled around on a tour bus. No. No. No. Keep the experience small, intimate, and off-the-beaten path. If you don’t want to put a trip together (it’s hard, I know) then you contact someone like Greener Travel. We work with local guides and lodges, and will treat you like family as well as teach you about the place you visit, not just tour you around. You will feel like a local, not a tourist.
If you are considering a trip to Alaska, then I encourage you to check out our July 2017 Jewish Alaska Adventure, a camping and lodge multi-sport adventure offered by Greener Travel.
Sign up by the end of March to ensure your participation!
Could we go someplace with warm water to swim in gorgeous beaches an easy walk from our hotel? Could we take nature tours of rainforests? Birdwatch? Swim in a pool below a waterfall? How about listening to lively local bands at night? Could we go someplace English speaking? Could we go someplace relaxing and tropical but not crowded with tourists? Could we try to match our values to be socially and ecologically responsible?
This fall we marked Dad's 70th birthday and overcame various challenges and Dad wanted to invite our family to celebrate life and holiday togetherness with a warm family vacation.
And that is how our wonderful parents invited their daughters and S.O.s to join them for an eco-tourism holiday to T&T with Greener Travel.
My sister gifted our folks rash-guards and I bought them a field-guide to the birds of Trinidad and Tobago.
We spent two enchanting weeks touring the nature-sites of the two islands, learning local history and culture, and delighting in eating the famous Trini foods. We went birdwatching along ponds and mangrove swamps and rainforest trails and saw caimans (smaller South American cousins to alligators) on both islands. We also hiked along streams and waterfalls on both islands.
Please look through my photos (see slideshow above) and descriptions below.
The first photo in the slideshow: Pigeon Point, Tobago.
Pigeon Point and the area near it is packed with beautiful beaches protected by reefs. It is a lovely place to start sailing or glass-bottom boat snorkel tours, which pick up very close to three of the beach hotels. You can also windsurf, jetsky or paddleboard.
We stayed at a hotel on the beach four nights where we strolled and waded in the water past local's fishing boats while watching the Magnificent Frigate Birds at 'Shallows' beach and swam at Pigeon Point Heritage Park.
Friday was Christmas, so we ate special Trini Christmas dishes like pastelles and black cake (rum or wine-soaked fruitcake), fresh creole spiced fish, West Indies style curries and fried fish with Roti. We lit Shabbat Candles and watched sunset from our beach-side deck. We snorkeled Buccoo Reef and swam in the Nylon Pool with the locals via a glass-bottom boat with a sassy Rasta captain. Another day we braved high seas and passing showers on a Catamaran sailing tour to a remote bay. The snorkeling at Cotton Bay was beautiful, the secluded beach looked like it belonged in a movie and we had the area all to ourselves.
Do you see the waterfall photo in the slideshow? We hiked to, climbed above and swam in the pool below the lovely Argyle Waterfalls, Tobago. We tasted cocoa from trees growing beside the path, saw a baby caiman and cool lizards, and watched a hummingbird dip the stream.
The hike to the waterfall was pretty easy even for our partially disabled elder using two hiking canes. Of course everyone was careful in 10 yard path over slippery boulders along the stream. As we reached the base of the waterfall we were tempted by a huge swimming area. On the side lay a steep rope-assisted climb where we saw people returning in bathing suits and flip-flops (not recommended). Mom stayed behind swimming. Dad rushed to start the climb, with me chasing to keep up with our newly minted septuagenarian. Yes, the climb a bit challenging but fun!
The reward? The delight of watching birds in the upper canopies above a waterfalls gorge while one of the upper cascades's waters drum a massage on your back. Do not miss this!
After the lowlands a guide and driver picked us up for birdwatching on the way to a serene eco-lodge in the rainforest. At the eco-lodge birdfeeders we watched many hummers, a gorgeous potoo and even a woodpecker (see the slideshow).
We saw seven kinds (some rare) of humming birds in front of the entrance at the lodge at Cuffie River. Hummers were right in front of our rooms eating when we woke early as pairs and then dozens of squacking parrots flew laps above at 5:30am.
At first we thought the woodpecker must be eating insects on the hummer feeder but if you look at the photo you can see the woodpecker's bill dripping droplets of sugar water (thieving from the hummers) at the Cuffie River Nature Retreat, Tobago. One day we hiked along the Gilpin Gorge in the Main Ridge Reserve to a pretty waterfall. We saw beautiful rare birds, bats (sleeping on a leaf), and many beautiful plants. Back at the lodge we watched the parrots return fly-over 6pm while we swam in the salt-water pool before eating one of the most delightful meals prepared by our very skilled hostess. The next day we took a great hike through the Cuffie River grounds to a muddy dirt road through old plantation orchards and rainforrests.
After a couple nights in the rainforest we flew to Trinidad for a New Years (Old Years Night) celebration, more waterfall hiking and beaches and a cultural/history tour.
In my photos you will see a shot showing prayer flags, detritus from ceremonies, fishing boat and a brown pelican beside the Temple in the Sea, Waterloo, Trinidad. This site is considered a national treasure, holds a story of the determination of the human spirit and hard work towards religious tolerance in Trinidad.
Yes, we took many more photos of Trinidad but they didn't fit in this slideshow.
Charismatic guides charmed us with tales of natural history, history and culture of the islands and advised us on fun activities and foods to try in our free time and future seasons. We were on the islands at the end of the wet season, right before Carnival and many months before the various sea-turtles lay their eggs. There is so much more to explore!
Message me to plan your trip! (Click to see Contact Info)
In my next post: Culture! Calypso New Years in Trinidad at "De Nu Pub", "Sunday School" in Buccoo, and becoming celebrities, or how we danced our way onto the local newspaper at a Calypso Association Carnival party.
Standing on the edge of the vast icefield, I looked ahead. Before me, over 800 sq. miles large, laid the Harding Icefield, burying most of the Kenai Fjords peaks under deep ice as far as the eye can see. Below Exit Glacier left the field, from up here a rather small tongue of craggy ice, sending a sensuous lick towards the lowlands. Beautiful.
The climb was challenging, about 4 miles up, the last mile and a half on the snow that had not yet melted in late June. We passed though the lower forested area, and up though lower alpine vegetation, led by our guides Heather and Dave, seasoned Alaska guides. The day before we drove down here from Anchorage – this was the third day of our Jewish Alaska Adventure. Looking from up here at this vast land, and feeling mighty small in the scheme of things, it was hard not to reflect on what we had just learned, that the whole state of Alaska might still be part of Russia today if it were not for several Jewish furriers from San Francisco who lobbied Secretary Seward back in the 1860s for the purchase. They had wanted the fur trading posts and access to the vast natural wealth (at least the poor animals whose hides they sought), and evidence to this purchase is in the name of Seward, the closest town to our campsite in Exit Glacier, and the place where we would embark on our glacier tour tomorrow.
Indeed, Alaska is a special place and throughout our 8 days I could not stop thinking about how small we seem in relation to this grand and unbound nature. Where I live in DC, and in the surrounding areas, there are hardly places I can travel to without being reminded that humans were here before, and have been here before, and have left their mark. It could be an antenna, an old logging road, something.
Not so in Alaska, where you can lookout into mountains and see no sign whatsoever of human presence – but just wilderness. Overwhelming wilderness that grounds us, humbles us, and reminds us of our place in the grand scheme of things.
I will definitely be returning to Alaska – and am looking to share these adventures and others with you on our July 2016 trip!
True, we can sit all day long and talk about how wonderful Costa Rica is - and we often do! On this instance, I would like to give the stage to a guest blogger, Joshua Marks, who came on our August 2014 Costa Rica trip. Josh is a Journalist with experience writing about sustainability, entertainment, politics, sports, travel and more. The piece is reprinted from his travel blog,
This summer I took a group eco tour of amazing Costa Rica in Central America. Enthusiastic and experienced environmentalist Ami Greener and his travel company Greener Travel organized the ten-day adventure. The tiny nation the size of West Virginia is one percent of the world's land mass and yet contains five percent of the world's biodiversity. The flora and fauna, the pristine beaches, the happy people, the many cultures, the rainforest, the volcanoes, the cities. When you visit Costa Rica you understand why their most famous saying and national greeting is "Pura Vida," or "Pure Life!"
My trip started in Washington, D.C. as I boarded a flight to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to the capital San Jose. We stayed at a hotel near La Sabana Metropolitan Park downtown -- the country's largest urban park that is enjoyed by the residents of San Jose. Costa Rica's main international airport was located at the park for 44 years until the opening of Juan Santamaría International Airport.
Also located at La Sabana is the National Stadium of Costa Rica (Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica), which was completed in 2011 and is the first modern sport and event arena built in Central America. The 35,175-seat capacity stadium serves as the home of the Costa Rican national football team. The Ticos shocked the soccer world at this summer's Brazilian World Cup by becoming the Cinderella team. They posted their best performance ever at a World Cup by finishing first in their group that consisted of powerhouses Uruguay, Italy and England. They then went on to beat Greece in penalty kicks to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in the nation's history where they lost to The Netherlands also in a penalty shootout.
We were on a Jewish tour so we celebrated Shabbat in San Jose at a warm and welcoming congregation called Congregation B’nei Israel that is a liberal synagogue affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative movements. The rabbi gave a powerful sermon on the new anti-Semitism that has even made its way to Latin America and it was somber because another rabbi had lost her mother that same day. There was also a joyous farewell to a congregation member who was moving her family to North Carolina.
The next day we visited the heavily fortified Shaarei Zion synagogue and Jewish museum. Shaarei Zion is orthodox and the museum documents the rich history of Jews in Costa Rica. The place was a compound with lots security that was likely increased because at that time the conflict was raging between Israel and Hamas. It is a beautiful synagogue and museum and I highly recommend it if you are Jewish and decide to visit San Jose.
We also took a trip just outside of San Jose to Poas Volcano National Park, which climbs to 2,300 meters above sea level. The clouds had rolled in and it was rainy and misty so we couldn't see the Poas Volcano Crater Lake. Our wonderful guide Gustavo then took us to an authentic Costa Rican family style restaurant for some delicious food.
After a night out dancing at a San Jose area nightclub, we boarded the bus for the trip to the Caribbean lowlands, lunch in Guapiles and then the rocky and muddy jungle roads to the small dock called Pavona where we boarded a boat for the the trip down the canals to our destination of Tortuguero in the middle of the jungle. Our eco lodge Rana Roja (Red Frog) is only accessible by boat.
We were woken up early in the morning by the sound of howler monkeys as we were surrounded by all the jungle animal and plant life. We took an early morning jungle boat ride and saw crocodiles, birds, monkeys and other flora and fauna. We also visited the funky main town of Tortuguero and the Sea Turtle Conservancy where we learned about the international efforts to save the turtles and preserve the egg nests from poachers. There was an optional late night tour to see the female green or Leatherback turtles lay their eggs, but I got sick and stayed in my cabin to recover. We called it the man flu because only the guys were getting sick. While it was awful getting sick in the middle of the jungle, it eventually passed after a couple of days and I fully recovered.
Next was a more than three hour boat ride on the inter-coastal canal to the port of Moin. The water was very shallow and the boat got stuck a few times and had to be manually pushed. One time the water was too shallow to pass so our captain ventured out into the open waters of the Caribbean and we nearly made it before a huge wave came crashing into our exposed boat and got everyone soaking wet including our luggage. Part of the adventure! Right!? Right? Uh. Yeah?
At Moin we boarded another bus for the short trip to the historic port city of Limon, the largest city on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. Our guide David Carnegie told us about the Afro-Caribbean heritage of Limon and we had a wonderful lunch at an Afro-Caribbean restaurant in the heart of Limon.
We then headed to the bohemian village of Puerto Viejo where many Europeans take holiday (most Americans stay on the more luxurious Pacific side). In the late afternoon/early evening we headed to beautiful Punta Uva Beach.
The next day we visited the KèköLdi Indigenous Territory to learn about the indigenous BriBrí and Cabécar cultures and their efforts to preserve and rehabilitate iguanas. We then went to a traditional indigenous village where we witnessed a family make chocolate from the Cacao trees growing beside their house. The organic hot chocolate was the best I have ever tasted in my life. It was a spiritual experience.
We also visited Volio waterfall. We had to hike down to reach the powerful waterfall and then swam against the powerful currents to reach underneath the waterfall and feel the power of the falling water.
At the Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo we saw sloths, snakes, owls, birds, horses and other species representing the diversity of animal life in Costa Rica. We even got to handle an adorable baby monkey.
There is an excellent Israeli restaurant in Puerto Viejo where we had some hummus and other Middle Eastern food which was a welcome break from the constant rice and black beans (gallo pinto) that is served with every dish in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The next night we took a Caribbean cooking class with Junior Palmer. We ate delicious food, drank to warm our bellies and listened to soothing Jamaican reggae music to warm our souls.
The next day our guide Tino took us on an amazing hike through the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge where I ate termites, had a spider weave its web on our heads, ate the healing Noni pear, had a piece of the biggest fruit in the world, saw the walking tree, tree frogs, the bullet ant that should be avoided at all costs, thousands of leaf cutter ants constructing their intricate city in the middle of the forest, lizards, monkeys, sloths and other species of flora and fauna that are only found in the rainforest. After the intense hike, we relaxed in the warm Caribbean waters and had a wonderful laid back lunch in this place that time forgot.
The next day was white water rafting the spectacular Pacuare River, which National Geographic rated as one of the top ten rafting rivers in the world. We started in the Caribbean highlands and made our way down the river, encountering class three and four rapids and enjoying the pristine nature and gorgeous natural scenery of one of the most breathtaking areas in the world. We even took a dip in the clean, pristine water between the challenging rapids. The run was 18 miles long and took about three-and-a-half hours thanks to expert leadership from our guide Monkey.
Our final destination before heading to San Jose and our flights home was Arenal Volcano, a region in the northwest of Costa Rica. We went zip lining, went on a hike for panoramic vistas of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal and visited the therapeutic hot springs resort.
Costa Rica is simply amazing. The natural beauty is only matched by the warmth and generosity of their people. Pura Vida. Pure Life. It is not just a greeting but a way of life. You will have to experience it yourself to truly understand what it means.
Here are more pictures from Costa Rica:
And here is a video playlist:
Interview with Ami Greener, Director of Greener Travel, about our upcoming August Jewish tour of Costa Rica.Read Now
The interview was conducted by travel and environmental writer Josh Marks.
Josh Marks: What motivated you to start a Jewish Eco Tour of Costa Rica?
Ami Greener: After my IDF service I traveled to Central America and I fell in love with Costa Rica, its natural beauty and its people.
In 2010 I founded Greener Travel, combining my love for the environment and travel, while creating a unique trip that would be fun for Jewish professionals. This summer I’m going to lead my eighth trip there!
JM: What makes this trip Jewish and what makes this trip eco?
AG: The first weekend we spend Shabbat in the capital San Jose, and visit the local Jewish community. On Friday our group hosts an oneg at the local synagogue, following a unique tri-lingual service!
We get to learn a bit about the local Jewish history, and places such as an Israeli hummus joint in the rainforest. We spend the last weekend on a Jewish-owned eco-farm, Finca Rio Perla, in the Caribbean Highlands.
As a long-time environmentalist, it was important for me to establish Greener Travel as an eco-tour company (having the right family name didn’t hurt either!). Eco-tourism means minimizing the environmental impact on one hand and maximizing the beneficial impact on the communities we visit.
For example, we stay in local, family-owned lodges so the majority of the profits stay and benefit the community. We work with local guides who grew up in the area and form personal relationships with them. For example, Junior Palmer, a native of Puerto Viejo, invites us to his home for a unique kosher style Caribbean cooking class. Tino, one of our naturalist guides, grew up in the Gandoca-Manzanillo wildlife refuge, and will take us on an unforgettable rainforest hike. We also include an element of volunteering on our tour and in the past we helped a local women’s cooperative farm build a bio-digester. This way I connect our tour to the Jewish tenant of Tikkun Olam -- not just taking photos and having fun but also improving the lives of those that we visit.
JM: If a Jewish young professional is considering an organized trip, why would they choose yours?
AG: Our tour is all about the experience! After visiting San Jose, we go white water rafting on the Pacuare River, considered one of the most scenic runs in the world. We also go zip lining, take several naturalist-led jungle hikes, sail the canals of Tortuguero National Park, see 200-pound green turtles lay their eggs on the beach, visit a jungle animal rescue center, learn to make organic chocolate, swim in amazing, secluded waterfalls and experience the unique Caribbean vibe of Puerto Viejo and it’s amazing beaches, eat great food – and there is more!
What is the biggest concern trip participants have before going?
Participants are concerned by visiting the rainforests for the first time; malaria (non-existent where we visit); personal safety (just like you are alert in any big city in the States, be alert in Costa Rica and don’t carry too many valuables.); not knowing anybody on the trip (by the second day everyone is good friends or friendships begin).
What do past participants have to say about their experience in Costa Rica?
“This trip ignited my sense of adventure, awakened my hunger and desire for exploring the world, and once again opened up my eyes to what matters in life most,” says Faina, who went on the June 2012 trip.
“The perfect mixture of non-stop adventure travel,” says Jenn, who also participated on the trip in June 2012. “Book now with Ami & you won't regret it! See you on his next trip!"
JM: Why is Costa Rica an appealing tourist destination?
AG: Costa Rica – a country the size of West Virginia, seems to have it all. Amazing beaches. Breathtaking rainforest scenery. A huge biodiversity of animals and plants. And people that are probably the happiest in the world. Couple that with adventure activities such as zip lining, rafting and water sports – and there is something for everyone in Costa. Rica. It’s also an example of a country that made a conscious decision to protect large swaths of the country for the benefit of future generations which allows it to be a prime eco-tourist destination.
JM: Can accommodations be made for someone who is observant?
AG: The trip is actually is designed to take account of Shabbat observers. On the first weekend the hotel is walking distance from the synagogue and downtown, and the second weekend we stay on the farm with no activities needing work or transportation. All the places we eat have strict vegetarian/vegan options although the food is not certified kosher.
JM: What is your favorite part about going to Costa Rica?
AG: The rainforest! And Kabbalat Shabbat near the waterfalls in Finca Rio Perla – the best place to appreciate the wonders of this world!
JM: When does the trip take place? When does registration end? How much does it cost?
AG: The trip will take place Friday, August 1st to Sunday, August 10th 2014. Eight days or nine days for those that choose to arrive on Friday. Registration ends July 1st but we have early bird price for those registering before April 17th. The cost of the trip is $1,875 and it includes lodging, transportation, activities as well as most meals. All the information can be found on our trip page.
JM: Anything else you would like to add about why a Jewish young professional should consider going on your Costa Rica adventure?
AG: They will have the experience of their lifetime and will connect with other likeminded Jewish young professionals from DC and all over North America.
JM: What other trips do you offer?
This July we are offering a unique Mountain & Glacier Jewish trip to Alaska. In mid-September we are offering our first Jewish exciting adventure to Trinidad & Tobago. In mid June we are offering a 3-day canoeing Shabbaton on the Delaware River (close to metro areas of New York, Philadelphia and D.C.)
Interview conducted by travel and environmental writer Josh Marks. Josh writes for sustainable design site Inhabitat and blogs about his adventures around the world at Josh’s Travel Blog and about the transition to the sustainable economy at Green Forward.
Tanya ans Surya in Corcovado
On of the most satisfying parts of running a travel business is that you get to see your clients at their best. Often, you are planning and coordinating what will most likely be one of the highlights of their year - a time to get away from it all, relax, visit new places, go on new adventures and make friends in far-away countries. It is more so the case when you are planning a honeymoon - that first vacation the couple takes after tying the knot: it has to be memorable,. Once upon a time, this was the first vacation the couple took together, though often today the couple has lived - and traveled - together before the honeymoon. Once upon a time a honeymoon was a vacation where the couple got to relax for 10 days on some beach or resort, which is still true for some, but not for the couples that have been asking us to tailor their special vacation. At Greener Travel we try and combine adventure and relaxation, though the honeymoon vacations we tailor to Costa Rica are definitely on the active side, combining rainforest hiking, diving and snorkeling, zip-lining and canyoning, white water rafting, wildlife viewing and eco-farm visits. We recently planned Tanya and Surya's 16 day honeymoon, and currently have a few other couples in Costa Ricca enjoying their honeymoon vacation off-season (our favorite time!).
I posted some pics below from Tanya and Surya's honeymoon.
Oil flares from a field near Rio Napo, Ecuador
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux
It is in amazement that I look back on the last three years, and where this journey of founding an eco-tour company has taken me. Three years ago, on a freezing winter day in January, I was on my way to Costa Rica, a place I had visited many years before and had fallen in love with during a 5 week long visit, back in 1997. I was at the beginning of a 6 month trip of Latin America, which took me from Guatemala all the way down to Peru. This is the trip where I had both gotten the travel bug, and decided I wanted to study environmental science – a trip that defined the path I took in life.
True, I was aware of environmental degradation in my home county of Israel, as well as the unsustainable consumption of resources going on in the world, but I was at the beginning of my journey. Having just finished four years in the military, I was ready for both adventure and an education.
Nothing really prepared me for both the beauty of the tropical rainforests I visited in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Ecuador – and nothing had prepared me for the impromptu visit I made to an American oil field in the Amazonian part of Ecuador. At that point in time I was traveling with Anke, a German environmentalist who was writing her master thesis on the environmental impact of such oil fields in the Amazon. We had observed that close to these flaring fields (I forget if it was Texaco or Chevron) it was eerily quiet, the rainforest birds gone. We had also talked to dislocated indigenous people, on our voyage up one of the mighty Rio Napo tributaries. These poor people were resettled in what looked like concrete (or asbestos?) huts, languishing away from there traditional homes in the rainforest. Many succumbed to alcohol and disease , some working for a pittance at the oil fields. Is this sustainable development?
With my brash Israeli chutzpah, I helped talked our way into visiting the main oil field. We were hosted by some of the American managers, and had lunch with them in an air-conditioned executive dining hall. “Sure, they were for the environment, but how is this poor country supposed to make money?” they told us, and went on to show us the environmental safeguards put in place – including a shiny recycling bin for bottles. Though I did not know the word at the time, I was being green-washed. The jungle around us was still silent, the pollution and oil will remain in the ecosystem for years.
Traveling through the Amazon on a dugout canoe was an amazing experience - we camped on the bank of the tributary, under the massive canopy, swam in the river during the day, and took late-night walks and observed the different set of wildlife that comes out at dark. Our indigenous guide shared his wisdom with us, and prepared a traditional stomach pain remedy from some leaves he collected from a tree.
I thought to myself, there must be a way to both preserve the rainforest, and provide for the local peoples, no?
Though I did not know it at the time, eco-tourism is one of many ways to benefit both people and the planet. This was the first step in the journey for me - a journey that would bring me back to the rainforest many times - though each time I visit the rainforest, I am amazed all over again by the amount of life it harbors.
Ami Greener, Director
Greener Travel LLC
The August 2012 Jewish group - near Finca Rio Perla!
Last week I returned from Costa Rica after leading an amazing group of 17 people from around the world! We had a great time together for 10 days, as I got to know the group and introduce them to some of my favorite Costa Rica spots. This was more then just a group tour, as during our time in Costa Rica we formed a spacial community. In a trip like this, we all go through many fun and challenging experiences, and so many friendships begin, often continuing past the flight home.
I wanted to share with you a poem by Manny, one of the participants that not only made up nicknames to everyone on the trip, but was often the heart of the party. On our first Friday, most of us were tired from traveling to San Jose, but it was Manny who organized a late night run to the liquor store and an ad-hock toast in one of our suites.
Without further ado, I present the poem he wrote about what makes our trips so special - the people.
This week it is my honor to post an interesting guest blog post by Abby, who joined our May 2012 Jewish trip:
I recently returned from the Costa Rica Caribbean Experience trip. I hadn't been out of the country since college, so I thought this would be a fun break before working this summer and an opportunity to work on my Spanglish. The group was a total of 8 people, a mix of DC (Courtney, Jenn, and Faina), NYC (me, Julie, Steph, and Josh), and LA (Isobel). The group was all female except for our one pimp, Josh. We immediately decided that our trip would be a real-life Bachelor, and we'd all fight to the death for the final rose. Pulling a "Brad Womack," Josh ended up giving the final rose to no one.
San Jose: Most of us arrived in San Jose on Friday and spent Shabbat with the Reform Jewish community of San Jose. The service that night was led by the sisterhood. The interesting part was that most of the men were American and their wives were Costa Rican women who had converted to Judaism. On Saturday morning, a few people opted to take a day-trip to the crater of the active Poas volcano. I kinda did the whole volcano thing when I was 15 in Costa Rica and so I decided to walk around San Jose looking for chahcas for my niece and nephew. On Sunday morning we left for a day of white-water rafting on the Pacuare river. We were lucky enough to have a very-attractive river-guide, Berto who had no faith that a boat of 6 women and 1 guy would make it down the rapids without anyone falling out. Our boat was appropriately named "Berto's Bitches." Despite Josh's large size, Berto demoted Josh from lead paddler to the back of the raft because "he's a bad listener." Ouch!
Puerto Viejo: Our tour next took us to Puerto Viejo, a Rastafarian surfer town on the Caribbean coast (the locals’ ancestors came over from Jamaica in the 19th century to work in the banana plantations). This portion of the tour was lead by Junior, a chef whose mother supposedly runs the most famous restaurant in Puerto Viejo. I'm pretty sure Ami and Junior were gay lovers at some point, because every-other word out of Ami's mouth was "Junior-this" and "Junior-that..." During our stay, we went to the beach, walked around town, ziplined through the jungle, visited a native village and made chocolate, took a Kosher style Caribbean cooking class, and went on a nature walk to the Gandoca Manzanillo wildlife refuge. A few dogs began following our group on the nature walk. Since there were no guys on the trip, I decided the cutest of the dogs, Pinto, would be my new boyfriend. He was very loyal, kept quiet, and followed our group the whole way on the trail.
Tortuguerro: After Puerto Viejo, we loaded our suitcases on a tiny boat to get to Tortaguerro (Ami told us to pack light, but of course he forgot he was talking to a group of Jewish girls). To get there, we took a 3 hour boat-ride though a crocodile-infested canal and got about as close as 10 feet away. Unfortunately I was on the shore-side of the boat and cuddled with Courtney so she would keep me safe from the massive crocs. The next morning, I opted out of the 6am boat ride to the Tortuguero National Park and met up with the group for the nature walk after breakfast. The girls and I soon learned that the neighboring resort offered couples massages for $40 for 1 hr including boat transportation! So Courtney, Jenn, Julie and I took advantage of this. Not gonna lie, it was a little unsettling to be naked next to another girl during the couples massage, but anything for a $40 massage! At night, Willis, a local guide, took us on a night walk along the beach to try and spot the massive sea turtles coming in to lay their eggs. To our surprise, after 5 minutes we came upon a Hawksbill turtle, one of the most endangered of the sea turtles - truly an amazing sight!
The Farm (Finca Rio Perla): The final stop on our trip was a Jewish-owned farm, and these were by far the most rustic of the accommodations. There were a number of cute dogs on the farm, one who even resembled Pinto. So I decided to replace my boyfriend Pinto with another dog, Toby. On the farm some of us milked cows (Isobel was fearless!), rode on horses, made cheese, made ice cream, swam in some amazing waterfalls, caught our own red-snapper dinner, and watched Superbad. It was a great 9 days away from the craziness of NYC with a fascinating and outgoing group of people. Ami always had every aspect of the trip well-organized, and we always felt like we were in good hands. To see more pictures from our adventure, check out the trip's fan-page.
(Author of Secrets of Shiksa Appeal)
In this blog Greener Travel will write about eco-tourism and unique travel experiences!