Sara Izzi and Timur Tugalev, digital nomads and authors of the Travel blog The Lost Avocado.com document for the first time incredible country of Kyrgyzstan. The dreaming sceneries of the lake of Song Köl, from Orto Tokoy, a reservoir of turquoise water in the Kochkor District, up to Issik Kul, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and Karakol, with its canyons, wild parks and colourful markets.
Explore the country of Bhutan with this unique video.Read More
There's more to Hawaii than beaches and volcanos. In this video, you'll see waterfalls, stunning mountain ranges, star studded skies and even temples. "Islands of Aloha" captures what makes the most isolated inhabited landmass in the world so special.
Some of the best roses in the world bloom in Kenya. While the country is widely known for its scenic national parks and wildlife reserves, it’s also a major flower producer. Winnie Gathonie Njonge is the production manager at Nini Flowers, which sits on the shores of Lake Naivasha. She knows all there is about growing perfect roses and oversees the harvesting of 300,000 to 450,000 a day. “The ultimate goal of growing roses is to make other people happy,” she says. It brings her joy to know the roses she cultivates are sent to the United States, Japan and other countries, spreading love and beauty all over the world.
The videographer is Face du Monde and these are his comments on the video:
“Since I was a kid, it always has been a dream of mine to see "El dia de los Muertos" in Mexico. So last October my friend Max and I decided to travel there. It was my second time in this country I really fell in love with. We spent 3 weeks travelling around Quintana Roo, Yucatán and Campeche states. I made this video to show how this country has his own culture, his own history that you will find nowhere else in the world. "El dia de los Muertos" is an event everybody should see once in his life, it really represents the Mexican soul. I would like to thank all amazing people I met there who made this journey unforgettable.”
When she graduated from Penn State University in 2015, her professor challenged her to “unlearn.” Not her well-earned education, but her limiting cultural myths and expectations. Discovering the symmetry between Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and Carl Jung’s process of Individuation, Nicole set off to write her own myth by following her bliss. Her journey led her to teach english overseas, to backpack the 500 mile El Camino de Santiago in Spain, and eventually to becoming a core team member with the Happy Kids Center in Bhaktapur, Nepal.
Their vision is to free the children of their community through education, health care, and the abolishment of child marriages. Since 2016, the Happy Kids Center has helped increase school enrollment by 45% and reduced child labor to 8%, with many of those attending school in addition to their work. And they’re just getting started. The Center is establishing long-term stability by hiring local staff and partnering with the government to offer incentive-based scholarships, community meal days, vocational programs, and child-marriage prevention initiatives. Ultimately, they don’t want to be needed anymore. They would rather see the community empowered to create its own change and growth in the future.
As part of that goal, and to continue her quest to “unlearn,” Nicole set out on a solo bicycle journey across Asia and Europe to raise $12,000, enough to cover an entire year’s worth of expenses for the Happy Kids Center.
Nicole’s journey began in Chiang Mai, Thailand on March 8, 2018, the International Day of the Woman. As a woman of symbols and rituals, this was an empowering day for her to embark. Soon, cycling across unknown landscapes became a moving meditation in which Nicole began to unlearn myths about what it means to be a productive human living a meaningful life. She’s learning to live slowly, like the shepherds and herders, but fiercely, like the Kyrgyz horse riders and Mongolian falcon hunters. She is learning to trust and rely on the good nature of people without naïvely closing her eyes to real-world dangers. She’s re-evaluating her needs, wants, and limits. No porcelain doll defined as a sweet, delicate, sexual thing, Nicole is becoming a woman who runs with the wolves.
Embracing the unknown is a key part of the journey for Nicole. With her eyes set on Sevilla, Spain as the finish line, she’s embracing the twists and turns along the way. She fell in love with the Mongolian steppes, trusted the flow through difficult border crossings, and traversed mountain passes and cultural barriers alike. Along the way, Nicole has learned first-hand the importance of caring for the land she travels through, how the most positive impact is often the least physical impact. As a cycle-tourer, she spends most of her time in the spaces between tourist destinations, and may be the first foreigner a local has ever met. Through such experiences, she has learned to respect each place she encounters as belonging to the locals and their culture, even when she doesn’t understand their customs. Traveling with an open heart has given Nicole the opportunity to see the world with a new clarity and shown her how people all over the world really want the same things.
Nicole’s journey continues through the Republic of Macedonia, and her adventures can be followed and supported through her website, Unlearning By Bike. The best way to learn more about the Happy Kids Center is to visit their website at www.happykidscenter.org. There are multiple ways to get involved and support their work directly, including one-time donations to any of their campaigns, volunteering services such as media and web design, and becoming part of the Happiness Tribe through recurring monthly donations. Happiness Tribe members receive quarterly gifts and newsletters as well as invitations to special events.
Joseph Campbell describes the ideal life as being filled with one Hero’s Journey after another. Nicole Heker is certainly filling her life up. And most inspiring of all, she’s not hoarding her experiences for herself, but sharing them and the lessons she’s learning along the way with all of us.
By: Todd Holcomb
Daily life in the Indian holy cities of Rishikesh, Haridwar, and Devprayag. This region lies in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Ganges River descends from the mountains. I visited not knowing what to expect, and I was both awed and saddened by the experience. The beauty of nature and the Hindu ceremonies contrasted with the poverty and suffering on the streets. The people I met had a high-spirited resilience that seemed to stem from surviving and maintaining their devotion through a challenging life.
Located at a maritime crossroad, the island of Sri Lanka has been influenced over thousands of years by cultures throughout Asia, largely including its neighbor, India. Home to spectacular riverscapes, numerous Hindu temples, and an array of wildlife, the island is truly something to behold. Here, videographer Piotr Wancerz, captures the people who reside in Sri Lanka going about their daily lives; from schoolchildren to fieldworkers. Explore the island's peaceful beaches, unique cuisine, ancient temples and busy city streets like you've never seen them before in this video.
When Caitlin Murray met Alejandro and Agostina, conservationists and owners of Ecuadorian Mashpi Artisanal Chocolate Farm, she’d been living in South America for two years after a solo trip that inspired her to stay. They showed her how their commitment to regenerating Ecuador’s cloud forest focuses on sustainable farming practices and educating others. They also gave her a taste of their handcrafted Arriba Cocoa bar that won first place in 2016’s International Chocolate Awards. Inspired by their story and commitment to the environment, Caitlin wanted to bring others to their farm.
Volunteering abroad, solo backpacking, and working in the tourism industry, Caitlin realized in order to access culture and be socially responsible, she must find measurable ways to directly give back to local communities. Driven to create opportunities for women to collectively experience this, she founded Purposeful Nomad. Purposeful Nomad is a travel company that crafts deeper, safer, more ethically responsible travel for women. They attract women from a variety of backgrounds and ages seeking a different kind of experience. “I wanted to use tourism as something positive in the world and not just a consumerism ‘let’s take my life and emulate my life somewhere else’ ethos,” Caitlin explains.
Two years after her visit to Mashpi Farm, Caitlin launched her first women-only sustainable social impact travel program in Ecuador - called Food, Farm, Fleece. The 14-day itinerary integrates local experience and education. Early on, the group meets with grassroots organization founders of Paqocha, Felipe Segovia and Lorena Perez to learn about their efforts to revive the alpaca population. Next, they learn from Ecuadorian women how to shear, clean and spin the fleece with the opportunity to purchase handwoven wares directly from the makers.
Going through a transitional time in her life, Sara Carter signed up with Purposeful Nomad to “fulfill her desire to immerse herself in Ecuador's culture, food, and people, while affording her the chance to do it with like-minded women.” Within a few short years, Purposeful Nomad has grown to eight new locations and diversified itineraries - including Cuba, Morocco, India, and Guatemala.
According to the World Tourism Organization as explained in CNBC’s article “Eco-Friendly Tourism” eco-travel is expected to climb to 1.8 billion by 2030. Since 2000, worldwide destination seeking has jumped by more than 50 percent. As socially responsible travel continues to grow “we make sure our dollars stay local. We’re not a luxury tour company,” says Caitlin. According to McColl of Ethical Traveler, the best way to travel sustainability is to get to know the local people so the “money stays in the local economy, rather than getting extracted by foreign corporations … as a bonus, it’s a more genuine experience, and a better chance to connect with local people.” Purposeful Nomad prioritizes local from lodging and cuisine to hiring knowledgeable guides. Caitlin builds partnerships by talking to locals and finding ways to help. She doesn’t assume to know what a place needs. She asks. Would you like to work with us? How can we help?
According to MarketWatch, more than 1.6 million people volunteer on vacation each year, paying more than $2 billion annually to help out while traveling. Nevertheless, it brings into question how much lasting impact they are generating.
Purposeful Nomad focuses on tapping into established grassroots organizations that are already happening on the ground and are a proven success to help measure their impact. “Bigger volunteer organizations, can create incredible infrastructures in developing countries, but once they pull out, the schools are empty. We don’t want that,” Caitlin explains.
With the mounting popularity of conscious travel, terms like responsible, sustainable and ethical can often be overused or misused in the tourism industry. Epicure & Culture contributor, Daniela Frendo explains, “In the travel industry, greenwashing refers to tour operators which make eco-trips seem more sustainable and ethical than they actually are.” Travelers can mitigate this by asking travel companies whether they employ local people and buy locally-sourced products as well as learn more about how invested the company actually is in community-based projects. Aware of greenwashing, Caitlin says, “If you take shortcuts, people are going to know.” She thoroughly vets organizations and individuals to ensure there is transparency in where the money goes.
Back at the Masphi Farm, Alejandro and Agostina’s passion for conservation and keeping the Ecuadorian traditions of the cacao crop alive balances well with dishing out delicious artisanal chocolate. So, for your next trip, consider traveling with a purpose—it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
JULIA KRAMER is a New York-based writer and avid traveler who addresses systems changes to social challenges through storytelling and community building. When she’s not writing or on the road, you will find her cooking something from her urban garden or hiking. Read more of her articles on travel and social impact at julia-roos.com.
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal and to the southeast of the Arabian Sea. The videographers took a road trip in Sri Lanka and this video documents their travels.
Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a Southeast Asian nation of more than 100 ethnic groups, bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. The videographers spent two weeks traveling in Myanmar and fell in love with the country. There are many cultural practices still alive due to the fact that the country was closed off to most of the world for some time.
The tiny Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen sits nestled between the Sierra del Carmen Mountains and the Rio Grande. Its Chihuahuan Desert location is strikingly beautiful, with green vegetation along the river, the brown soil of the surrounding desert and pink mountain cliffs creating splendid color contrasts.
I have been taking students to this magnificent landscape for 20 years – mostly to Big Bend National Park in Texas, just a mile north of Boquillas. My colleagues and I have also studied the ecological and economic value of this habitat, one of the most biodiverse and ecologically important desert regions in the world.
Recently I returned to study the ecotourism and conservation potential of Boquillas. In the process, I learned about a local vision for the border that is markedly different from the prevailing U.S. view.
Here the Rio Grande forms the line between the United States and Mexico. The river is an ecological gathering place that draws humans and wildlife. For Boquillas residents, the idea of building a wall here is sacrilegious. As Lilia Falcon, manager of a local restaurant, said to me, “We have friends on both sides of the river, we want these interactions to continue.” Her husband, Bernardo Rogel, was more succinct: “We love both countries.”
A fragile ecotourism economy
Boquillas was originally a mining town, with local deposits of silver, lead and zinc that attracted prospectors. By the early 20th century, 2,000 people lived there and a thriving industry was exporting ore.
That boom turned to bust, and by the end of World War I the mines were closed. The town nearly disappeared in the 1960s, but in 1999 when I first visited there, it had about 200 residents. They made their living from cross-border tourism, with U.S. visitors to Big Bend National Park entering Mexico via a legal but unofficial border crossing.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, however, the United States closed all of these informal crossings. Overnight Boquillas lost its income source, ruining livelihoods and jeopardizing years of effort by residents and government officials to build cooperative border relations.
The nearest place to get supplies was now a 300-mile round trip over rough roads deep into rural Mexico. Just three miles away on the U.S. side, gas, food and services in Big Bend National Park’s Rio Grande Village campground were now inaccessible. Relatives who were citizens on opposite sides of the border were separated, 115 miles from the nearest legal crossing point.
After more than a decade of lobbying by residents, the U.S. government created a “remote” passport facility, where people crossing the border could present their documentation by phone to a border agent located in El Paso. Boquillas reopened and merchants and guides returned. In 2018 more than 11,000 visitors crossed over from the United States.
Today Boquillas residents are working again to teach visitors about this part of Mexico, and ecotourism companies are expanding. People here envision a future for the border in which respect, cooperation and shared economic gain will create a prosperous and sustainable future for communities on both sides.
Welcoming visitors and valuing connections
It is obvious to me that people in Boquillas love their town and are hopeful about the future. “I want to show visitors the beauty of my home and to have a more prosperous life for my family,” Lacho Falcón, a local guide whose family owns the only grocery store in town, told me on my most recent visit as we hiked into Boquillas canyon, its massive vertical walls gleaming in soft morning light.
I have heard that sentiment repeated many times as I have gotten to know more people in the town. Thanks to economic activity from tourism, “We have been able to buy a vehicle, improve our house, and most importantly, send our oldest daughter Wendy to college,” said Lucia Orosco. She sells crafts to help support her family, which includes husband Adrián, who manages the ferry crossing over the Rio Grande, and their three children.
Canoeing the Rio Grande is a favorite tourist activity. The river cuts through spectacular canyons, supports abundant wildlife and provides water for this thirsty land. I spoke with Ernesto Hernández Morales from Vera Cruz, Mexico and Mike Davidson from Terlingua, Texas about the river’s potential to unify their countries. As partners with Boquillas Adventures, a Mexican registered ecotourism company that focuses on natural and historic interpretation, they are working to expand sustainable tourism opportunities in nearby protected areas, hiring local residents as guides.
“We see our work as more than a business,” said Hernández Morales. “It’s an opportunity to show Mexico and the U.S. working together for security and prosperity.” Davidson concurs: “It is our goal to provide our guests a high-quality, safe experience…and offer them a glimpse of daily reality on this part of the border.”
Chalo Diaz, a local guide who takes visitors on river trips, is excited about his work. “Boquillas is a beautiful town where you can visit friendly people. Now that the border has reopened, we have improved it and are connected to the world,” he told me.
United ecologically, separated politically?
In 2011 Mexico and the United States signed a cooperative agreement to conserve the spectacular Chihuahuan Desert landscape. This initiative builds on proposals dating back nearly a century to create a cross-border international peace park.
American black bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and a host of smaller animals, as well as over 400 species of birds, move across this landscape. Studies show that conserving this region requires maintaining free movement for wildlife. Researchers warn that building a border wall through the area could threaten thousands of plant and animal species by preventing them from moving between patches of the best habitat.
Currently Boquillas is the only access point where people can cross between the protected areas in this region. This makes it critical to future conservation success. People in Boquillas believe that building a border wall would sever this connection, causing hardship and insecurity on both sides.
MATTHEW D. MORAN is a Professor of Biology at Hendrix College.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.
Csaba Labancz filmed this video compilation when he spent three weeks in Iran visiting most of the major cities and some unknown villages up in the Elburz mountains as well as some of the most remote places in the desert. This film is an essence of a country of ancient traditions, breathtaking landscapes, truly helpful and kind people and countless historical places.
The city of Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and is known for its busy streets and ornate shrines. The videographer, Jiajie Yu, described his intentions for making this film as “wanting to portray Bangkok in a cinematographic way, create a hypnotic, immersive and suggestive experience of the city through its faces, alleys, sound and music.”
Ōkunoshima and its imperiled bunny population remind us that wildlife and tourism don’t always mix.
From its many “cat islands,” which boast more feline than human residents, to Jigokudani Monkey Park, where visitors can observe macaques bathing in the naturally occurring hot springs, Japan seems to overflow with fantastical wildlife enclaves. Perhaps the most adorable of all is Ōkunoshima, or “Rabbit Island”—but the cotton-tailed denizens for which this island is known belie its sinister past and ambiguous future.
While Ōkunoshima, located in the Hiroshima Prefecture, is a popular tourist destination for those looking to get their kawaii fix, it was once hidden from maps due to its clandestine status as a World War II military location. Production of chemical weapons in the island’s poison gas factory began in 1929, and apart from factory workers and army higher-ups, few citizens were aware of its existence.
Ōkunoshima was chosen for its location: discreet enough for goings-on there to remain under the radar, and far enough from densely populated cities like Tokyo to prevent mass casualties in case of an accident. The factory there eventually produced more than 6,000 tons of gas—primarily mustard gas and the irritant lewisite—before its closure at the end of the war. Chemicals wereould be shipped to Kitakyushu in the Fukuoka Prefecture to be weaponized, eventually resulting in more than 80,000 casualties (including and more than 6,000 deaths) among Chinese soldiers and civilians.
Despite the fact that Japan was a signatory to the 1929 Geneva Convention banning the use of chemical weapons, none of the country’s citizens were prosecuted for employing poison gas. After Japan’s defeat in the war, most of the Ōkunoshima factory was destroyed, but laboratory buildings, the shell of a power plant, an army barracks, and a few other edifices remain. In 1988, local governmental entities and citizens opened the Poison Gas Museum to pay tribute to this dark and little-known facet of Japanese history. Displays include the ineffective protective gear worn by workers at the factory, which left them vulnerable to exposure and subsequent illness, as well as equipment used to manufacture the gases.
So where did the bunnies enter the equation? We know that a colony of rabbits was brought to the factory during its operational years to test the effects of poisons, but beyond that, theories diverge. Some suggest that the original crop of rabbits was destroyed along with the factory, while others claim that workers set the bunnies free after the war. Another theory asserts that schoolchildren brought eight rabbits to the island in 1971, where they bred until they reached their current population of approximately 1,000.
Today, Ōkunoshima is easily accessible via a 15-minute ferry, and embodies peace, rest, and relaxation for tourists and locals alike. Visitors can easily explore it on foot (the island is less than 2.5 miles in circumference), collect souvenirs, dine, play tennis, swim in the ocean, and bathe in the hot spring—apart from communing with the wildlife, of course. Rabbit Island’s website describes it as a place to seek good fortune for your own family’s fertility, and advertises whipped ice cream and “original rabbit items” for sale, as well as octopus kelp rolls, a local delicacy known to pair well with sake.
Yet even the island’s thriving tourist industry and booming bunny population has a more sinister flip side. The wild rabbits depend on visitors for their food and water, but tourists often come bearing snacks that are harmful to the creatures’ delicate digestive systems—such as cabbage or vegetable peelings, which can cause fatal bloating. And while visitors are keen to share photos of their new fluffy friends online, social media has played a key role in destabilizing the rabbit population: Viral videos and articles have led to a vast influx of tourists in the past decade, and the resultant avalanche of snacks and treats has contributed to a breeding boom that the island’s ecosystem is unable to handle. These factors have combined to lower the bunnies’ life expectancy to only two years, compared to the three-to-five-year lifespan of the average wild rabbit.
The plight of the Ōkunoshima rabbits is just one example of the widespread harm social media has inflicted on wildlife populations across the globe: For instance, viral YouTube videos of slow lorises, wide-eyed nocturnal primates native to Southeast Asia, have led to people taking home lorises from the wild to keep as their own. Unfortunately, captivity is unhealthy for the animals, and they often end up relegated to props in tourist photos—or worse, sold into the illegal pet trade, and possibly slaughtered for use in cuisine or medicinals.
Ultimately, bunny lovers need not be deterred from visiting Ōkunoshima, but following the rules is essential in order to treat the creatures kindly and foster their health and wellness. The Rabbit Island website lays out guidelines for responsible rabbit enthusiasts—including “refill water pans” and “check under your car,” as curious bunnies might hide underneath to escape the hot sun—and travelers can use their visit as an opportunity to educate friends and family about the unique perils posed to wildlife in the digital age. Approaching this mystical island mindfully is a small yet important step in helping the myriad diverse populations of the animal kingdom survive and thrive for many years to come.
TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.
Tim Kellner recorded this video to display his experience traveling in Alaska. In regard to his experience, Tim states “When I was a kid I would stare up at the giant stuffed grizzly bear in the Buffalo Science Museum and imagine seeing it alive and in the wild. That dream finally came true. I can't even begin to describe with words my experiences in Alaska so hopefully this video will capture just a small piece.” The music in the video is also by Tim.
This video documents the faces of Kathmandu and architecture in Nepal’s capital city. On display is the daily life of people in Kathmandu and tourist sites. It is the largest city of Nepal and has a population of approximately 1 million people. Additionally, Kathmandu is also the biggest metropolis in the Himalayan hill region. The languages spoken are predominately Nepali and English.
"Life While Traveling" is a short film about the way we look to the world when we travel. It's about colors, shapes, textures and details that surrounds us every day, but we only realize when we are far from home.
A film by Joan Bosch
Taiwan, a state in East Asia, neighbors the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and the Philippines. The videographer, Tiemo Weidemann, comments on his filming saying “I travelled through Taiwan for 4 months, and with this video I'd like to show this beautiful country through my eyes. I experienced the busy lives in the big cities, got overwhelmed by the other-worldly peace of the nature, lost myself feeling at home in the countryside and found value in the numerous traditions the Taiwanese people hold in such high regard.”
Adoringly known as “red gold,” paprika is the undisputed spice of Hungary. The 200-year love affair started when, seeking an alternative to expensive black pepper, people in the Szeged region of the country began grinding a readily available red pepper fruit into a delightfully hued seasoning. Today, it’s become a cultural touchstone, with museums and festivals dedicated to the spicy stuff, and new generations of top chefs securing its place in premium gastronomy.