How to Make Every Day World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and examine how our lifestyles affect the health of our big, beautiful, blue planet. It’s easy to see your personal impact on the ocean when it is literally your backyard; but life on land provides us with far fewer reminders of our connection to the water. We forget that everyday should be treated like World Oceans Day, and that every day can be!! Lucky for us, there are about a million ways to celebrate our oceans! Here are a few to get you started…

1. Cut out single use plastics! Roughly eight million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year. This plastic never breaks down. Every single piece ever made still exists somewhere. Due to our steadily increasing production of a material that lasts forever, there is now plastic pollution floating on every single square mile of Earth’s ocean surface.

This poses a serious health threat to both marine animals and humans, as microplastics ingested by small fish quickly travel up the food chain and inevitably make their way into our seafood dinners. This means that even the freshest fillets of wild fish often come with an unwanted side of BPAs and DDT, along with a host of other carinogenic or mutanagetic chemicals found in plastic products.

Marine animals also face hazards such as choking on plastic trash or becoming fatally tangled in it. If an animal does manage to ingest plastic without choking, it can clog its digestive system so that it starves to death, like this pilot whale, found off the coast of Thailand with 80 plastic bags in its stomach.

We were all taught the chant “reduce, reuse, recycle!” in elementary school. Unfortunately, this is virtually the extent the environmental education most of us receive throughout the first twelve years of our schooling. Many people have taken this to mean that by recycling their plastic water bottles, they are living an eco-friendly lifestyle, blissfully unaware of the fact that only about 10% of the plastic produced in the United States actually gets recycled. Even plastic that does end up in recycling bins is often shipped overseas and then rejected by plants that cannot properly recycle plastic contaminated with food or other non-recyclable materials. In short, encouraging recycling as the solution to the plastic crisis is nothing more than treating one symptom of a much bigger problem: our dependence on single-use plastic products.

But how do we cut plastic out of our lives completely when it seems to be everywhere?…

•Invest in some reusable grocery bags. Plastic grocery bags are used once for about 15 minutes on average and then last forever either in a landfill or as pollution.

•Carry a reusable water bottle. Most cafes and takeout restaurants like McDonalds or Starbucks will refill these for free if you just ask. It will save you money and cut down on your plastic consumption!

•Take a reusable cup to coffee shops; sometimes they even give you a discount for bringing your own mug!

•Ask for no straw at restaurants. If you can’t live without them, buy a couple of reusable stainless steel straws to take along with you when you eat out.

•Bring your own container and utensils to take-out restaurants. It’s easy to carry a fork or spoon with you in your bag. I make a habit of doing this while I travel and it always comes in handy!

•Avoid synthetic clothing. Microplastics enter waterways when we wash and dry clothing made of polyester, polar fleece and other plastic-based fabrics. Opt for clothing made from organic materials instead. Hemp, linen and organic cotton are some great eco-friendly alternatives.

•Do not over-wash the synthetic clothing that you already have.

•Eat less processed/ packaged food. The more whole foods you eat, the slower your trash can fills up with plastic packaging. Fruits and vegetables come with their own edible wrappers! Even better… grow your own!

2. Eat less meat and dairy. Animal waste runoff from factory farms is the single greatest contributor to ocean dead zones. Dead zones form when excessive amounts of nitrates enter the sea water, which causes algae blooms that deplete the water of oxygen; essentially creating an area completely void of life (the largest of which is located in the Gulf of Mexico). Animal waste is full of the nutrients that cause these algeal blooms, not to mention large amounts of toxic antibiotics and hormones that these animals are fed, all of which get washed straight into nearby rivers and streams when it rains.

The sheer quantity of meat produced in the United States makes sustainable animal agriculture virtually impossible. There is no place for such massive amounts of animal waste to be safely disposed of, which means it inevitably ends up in our water ways, where it kills marine life and poses serious health threats to local communities.

In addition to polluting waterways, the animal agriculture industry emits more greenhouse gasses than all transportation combined, making it one of the leading contributors to both ocean acidification and climate change!

*Many people worry about not getting enough protein on a plant based diet. There are so many great sources of plant protein, including lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds and beans and even many vegetables and whole grains, like spinach, broccoli, oats, rice, brussel sprouts, asparagus, and so so so many more (too many to list!). It is almost impossible to be protein deficient without being malnourished; so if you are consuming enough calories from real, whole foods (not processed junk foods) then it is safe to say you are getting enough protein!

•If the thought of going vegetarian is inconceivable to you, try “meatless mondays,” or consider making one meal every day plant based!

•When you do eat animal products, buy local and organic meat and dairy.

3. Know where your seafood comes from. A study conducted by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in 2012 revealed that roughly two thirds of the world’s fish have been either overfished or depleted completely. Global fish consumption has only increased since 2012 and is not expected to slow down any time soon.

The ocean is an exceptionally difficult resource to regulate due to a phenomenon called “tragedy of the commons,” in which people act against the best interest of a community for their own short-term benefits, and deplete a communal resource (like seafood) as a result. The best way to stop the seafood industry from succumbing to this phenomenon is by using our influence as consumers to make sure fisheries are drawing life from the ocean responsibly and at a sustainable rate.

•The simplest and most effective way to decrease the amount of fish being pulled from the ocean is to decrease the amount of fish we consume! If you are reading this, it is likely that you have the resources to switch to a source of protein that is far less taxing on the environment. Not everyone is so lucky. Billions of people, mostly located in developing countries, rely on seafood as a primary source of protein. By choosing plant protein over fish protein, not only are we allowing fisheries to regenerate and ultimately become more profitable in the long run, we are also leaving fish in the ocean for people who do not view seafood as a luxury, but as a vital lifesource.

When you do eat seafood…

•Only buy line-caught fish to avoid paying for by-catch! If you aren’t sure whether or not a fish was line-caught and no one at the market or grocery store can tell you, it’s best to skip it.

•Use an app like Seafood Watch to help you choose the most sustainable fish on the menu or at the supermarket.

•Check the MSC website for lists of fish to avoid eating. The list includes fish that have been overfished, as well as those caught using unsustainable methods.

•Only buy fish that have grown to maturity. Do not buy fish that have not had the chance to reproduce.

•Eat local, seasonal fish and familiarize yourself with local fisheries.

•Look for the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo on all the seafood you purchase. In order to place this label on their products, fisheries must meet certain standards set by the MSC that ensure they are properly managed and have minimal environmental impact.

4. Lower your emissions! We have all heard of the climate crisis, and we all know that our excessive greenhouse gas emmissions are at least partially to blame for this phenomenon. But how do air pollutants and rising atmospheric temperatures effect our oceans?

For one thing, climate changes causes average sea temperatures to rise as well as average atmospheric temperatures. Rising sea temperatures cause coral reef bleaching, which is currently wiping out entire underwater ecosystems at an alarming rate.

The excessive amount of CO2 in our atmosphere also causes ocean acidification. When the ocean must absorb unnaturally large quantities of CO2, its PH is lowered to a point that is unsafe for marine life such as plankton (the base of the oceanic food chain) and shellfish, which cannot properly form their shells in acidic water.

Luckily there are about a million ways to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels!

•Eat local foods. The shorter your food has to travel to reach your table, the lower its carbon footprint.

•Ride your bike, walk, skate, or take public transport. When you do have to drive, combine multiple errands into one trip.

•Switch to renewable energy sources like solar power and replace appliances with energy efficient versions when they break. In the mean time, turn lights off when you leave a room, close your windows when the heat/AC is on, wash your clothes with cold water and dry them on the line instead of in a dryer. It’s easy to forget that we are using fossil fuels every time we flip on a light switch. Try being more conscious of your energy consumption to lower your emissions.

•Ditch meat and dairy. Refusing to support the greenhouse gas intensive cattle industry is by far the most effective way to lower your total environmental footprint. The truth is, it is just about impossible to be both a carnivore and an environmentalist these days.

5. Remember that every waterway is connected. Everything that goes down your street gutter eventually makes it’s way into the ocean, from cigarette butts to household pollutants, like car-wash soaps and lawn fertilizers.

•Only apply lawn fertilizer when rain is not expected for the next 24 hours.

•Look for phosphorus free fertilizer and never over-apply!

•Do not replace your lawn with atrificial grass or astro-turf. These materials absorb less rainfall than real plants, meaning more runoff flows from our streets to our oceans, picking up toxic chemicals and litter along the way.

•Use biodegradable soap when washing your car.

•Pick up litter and dispose of it properly. Keeping our streets clean keeps our ocean clean.

•If you are using products on your lawn or your car that you would not want to eat or even swim in, think twice, because it will make it’s way into your food chain!

I hope you join me in giving our oceans some much needed love by turning a few of these suggestions into daily habits! 🌊

If you have any tips or suggestions to add, comment them or shoot me a message!

Wishing you all fresh ocean air today and everyday 🙂

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A look beneath the surface: What’s left of the Sea of Cortez?

Any sailor with even the mildest case of wanderlust has gazed longingly at the gentle curve of a table top globe, tracing imaginary routes from their home towns to far away ports with the tips of their fingers. For west coast sailors, these lines are likely to lead south; perhaps meandering along Baja’s rugged Pacific coast and turning the corner at Cabo San Lucas, headed for a place where the water is said to be bluer, the air warmer, the fish just a bit more colorful…

This magical place, of course, is the Sea of Cortez. And if that narrow strip of water tucked nicely between mainland Mexico’s Sonoran Desert and the Baja’s beckoning finger is in fact the setting of your vagabond daydreams, then you are not alone. Afterall, isn’t this the place that inspired Steinbeck novels and was famously dubbed the “aquarium of the world” by renowned marine biologist Jaque Cousteau?

It is.

Sadly, it is also a different Sea than it was 50 years ago, before overfishing and the spread of invasive species began taking its toll on the area, nearly driving certain species of marine life to exctinction and putting many fisheries at risk of imminent collapse.

Over the seven months I have spent exploring the Sea of Cortez, I have noticed a divide between the amount of visible life, and the constant grumblings of seasoned cruisers who claim the Sea is running out of fish. Everywhere I go, conversations about fishing and snorkeling quickly turn to conversations about the increasing rarity of certain species and the overfishing that is wreaking havoc on the Sea’s biodiversity. But it’s hard for me, an 18 year old with no possible understanding of what the Sea used to look like 50 or even 20 years ago, to believe that such a seemingly life-abundant ecosystem is actually in peril.
Realizing how skewed my own perception of the Sea of Cortez was by my general unfamiliarity with the area, I began wondering how much it has truly changed just in the span of my cruising companions’ lifetimes.
So I began researching…
It quickly became clear that, like most waterways across the globe, the Sea of Cortez is a victim of rapidly declining populations of sealife, due in large part to irresponsible fishing practices. Perhaps the most shocking of these practices can be found on the decks of shrimp boats, where an estimated ninety percent of a season’s total haul can be by-catch. That means that nearly NINETY PERCENT of the fish caught in these shrimper’s trawl nets is captured unintentionally, killed, and dumped back into the sea. Many of the animals frequently found tangled in these nets are endangered species, such as the 4 foot long porpoise, found only in the northern Sea of Cortez: the Vaquita. Trawl nets have played a large role in decreasing the already low population of Vaquitas from 200 in 2012 to a miniscule 30 remaining porpioses in 2017. Although the plight of the Vaquita is arguably the most heartbreaking example of the damage caused by trawl nets, these rare cetaceans are not the only animals whose numbers have dropped substantially over the last decade. In fact, most species of fish are steadily declining, many are endangered and some, like the Vaquita, are on the verge of extinction.
Many fishermen in the Sea of Cortez continue using trawl nets illegally, despite stricter regulations being placed on them (including a temporary ban) due to the extensive damage they cause to ecosystems. It has proven extremely difficult for governments and organizations the world over to regulate fishing practices. Afterall, the ocean is a communal resource, and one that many people depend on for their livelihood. For communities with limited fiscal opportunities, the high prices placed on certain sea animals by overseas markets can be virtually irresistible. For example, the swim bladder from a single Totoaba- a large, endangered fish native to the Sea of Cortez- can sell for as much as $10,000 a piece in China, where they are believed to have health and beauty benefits. Equally tempting for local fishermen are sea cucumbers, cannonball jellyfish, and hammerhead sharks- all of which are considered delicacies in Asia, and all of which have been slowly disappearing from the Sea of Cortez.
The poaching and overfishing that are rampant throughout the Sea of Cortez are not the only things draining the water of it’s once plentiful marine life.

Invasive species also take their toll, often in ways that are complex and unexpected. For example, invasive rodents and cats who have been introduced by humans to some islands in the Sea of Cortez have proven harmful to sea birds. When I first heard this, I expected the effect to be an increase in the populations of fish that these birds prey on, but it turns out, the opposite is true. Seabird feces is high in nutrients that are vital for many types of fish. This feces, or guano, accumulates on the shore (that’s the white stuff you often see covering rocky islands and headlands) and gets washed into the sea, where fish feed on it. As invasive species kill off seabirds, they can no longer supply fish with their nutrient rich waste, and fish populations decline as a result. In addition to rodents, invasive plants crowd out native flora, making it impossible for food that certain animals rely on to grow and flourish; while other introduced animals prey on organisms who have not yet adapted to the presence of these foreign predators, tipping the delicate balance of the food chain in favor of invasives. By threatening a single native animal, invasive species put entire ecosystems at risk of deceased biodiversity.

Organisms within any ecosystem are all interconnected and reliant on one another. Although our fast-paced lifestyles may create the illusion of our being removed from this codependency; in truth we are as much a part of the ocean’s web of life as any seabird or fish. Just as the relationship between these animals is more complex than meets the eye, our dependence on the sea goes far beyond simple recreational enjoyment. If every single living organism on the planet were to die tomorrow, the effect on human lives would be tremendous. Fisheries, along with economies dependent on them, would collapse. Millions of people in developing countries would lose their main source of protein. Even those who have spent their lives completely landlocked, and those with the ability to isolate themselves from the effects of collapsing fisheries would feel the impact of this loss of life. Roughly seventy percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere- oxygen we all breath- is produced by marine plants. These plants also absorb about one fourth of the CO2 humans pump into the air. Without the sea as a major carbon sink, the effects of global warming would be worsened in the form of more extreme weather patterns, reduced crop yields, increased desertification and rising sea levels, which will displace hundreds of thousands of people in coastal areas, potentially creating the worst refugee crisis in human history.

Of course, none of this will happen overnight. It is a long, drawn out process that is already in its early stages, as evident in the current deterioration of the Sea of Cortez. Unfortunately, the fluctuating nature of these changes means that very close attention must be paid in order to identify them before it’s too late. This is one of the reasons governments are often reluctant to accept environmental scientists’ predictions and adopt policies that are in the Earth’s best interest.
All the problems plaguing the Sea are happening on a global scale, and all are perpetuated by the human habit of adapting to a changing world, while underestimating or ignoring the consequences of those changes. But it can’t go on forever. One way or another, we will have to alter our lifestyles if we want to survive and provide the next generation with a planet that is still in-tact and inspiring enough to spark that globe-gazing, finger-tracing wanderlust we have the privilege of experiencing today.

Let’s not take the health of our magnificent home for granted. The Sea of Cortez should serve as a heart wrenching reminder that our oceans are not invincible. Luckily, there is an endless list of things we can do to help the state of our oceans. The first of which is educating ourselves on the health of our local waterways as well as our sources of ocean-drawn resources, like seafood.

But perhaps the most effective way to make a difference is to go outside. Go outside and see a place like the Sea of Cortez for yourself. Marvel at it. Fall in love with it. Make the problems facing that place deeply personal, as they should be. And see if you can come back unchanged.

Watch this space for a full list of ALL the measures you can take to live a more ocean friendly life!!!

Sources and further reading:

Saving the wonders of the Sea of Cortez

Sea of Cortez: the world’s aquarium

A primer on the species of the Sea of Cortez

On the brink of extinction: saving the totoaba

Vaquita pushed to the edge of extinction

To Grow Up at Sea

To live on a sailboat is to live on the salty, untamed fringes of society. It is a lifestyle requiring a level of enthusiasm uncommon amongst the general, land-dwelling public.

The children of sailors, then, are the salty, untamed children of enthusiasts, raised with an ample dose of eccentric energy and unfiltered life experience. Students of the world.

Imagine for a moment a childhood free from the mind-numbing busy-work of math class and all other distractions associated with suburban youth; filled instead with awe inspiring encounters with glowing algae, lumbering blue wales and dancing porpoises. Science class happens behind a snorkel and mask rather than a desk and physical education is no longer an organized table tennis match, but the raising of sails or cranking of a winch. Math lessons involve calculating the fuel-to-oil ratio of the dinghy outboard and English class is a captivating book, read beneath a fiery sunset on the rolling sea.

It is a classroom inspiring enough as to never prompt the toxic question, “why am I learning this?”

Every single person I have come across who has spent any portion of their childhood at sea has impressed me with some trait or skill that I would be hard pressed to find in a typical high school classroom. I have watched pre-teens spear their own fish and build fires on the beach to cook them over. I have met ten-year-old girls with the wildlife identification skills of a seasoned marine biologist, and fifteen-year olds who can take apart and rebuild an intricate winch faster than I can tie my shoes.

The only thing more impressive than the skills these kids have is the fact that the acquisition of their knowledge is almost always self-willed. If cruising kids have taught me anything, it is that the best way to teach a child something is to teach them to love it first. They’ll do the rest on their own. They know inherently that any endeavor can be justified solely by the presence of zeal; a truth long forgotten by our consumer-driven society, and especially our school system.

While a modern-day student learns how to work first so they may play later, and how to function in such a way that the world perceives them as successful; a cruising kid learns that there is no need to separate work and play, and that the best measure of success is a measure of enthusiasm. They discover first their passions and may spend the rest of their lives learning how to use them to support themselves. What a contrast this is to the average high school student who has too much knowledge and no direction, and is faced upon graduation with the daunting task of searching desperately for something to be interested in. Here is the difference between the mindless consumer and the visionary; wasted youth and inspired youth; making a living and actually living.

We would be wise to learn from those we label “unconventional.”  Perhaps all humanity really needs is a larger population residing on its fringes.

One River At a Time

When I first heard about the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, I thought it was too good to be true. An educational tall ship sailing up and down the Hudson River, teaching kids about the environment?!? This organization and I were a match made in hippy heaven. I couldn’t get my hands on a crew application fast enough and within months I was bobbing up and down in the middle of the Hudson, corralling fourth graders around the deck of a 106-foot sailboat, and singing about microplastics. If you are thinking “dream job!” you’re right.

All the singing and kid-corralling didn’t come as a surprise to me in my first couple weeks on the Clearwater. In fact, they were some of the job’s main selling points. What did come as a surprise, however, was the incredible community that I became a part of the moment I stepped foot on the ship – a community that has been growing since the organization was founded almost 50 years ago by a small group of Hudson Valley activists. The organization, which has become a “template for environmental education programs around the world,” was founded with one simple goal in mind: “to build a boat to save the river.” Musician and activist, Peete Seeger, held the vision for this project, but it was the community that formed around the sloop that turned his mission into the tremendous success it is today. Seeger got people to care about the river by getting them out on the water and teaching them about it. He didn’t have the power to educate the entire nation about environmental degradation, and he certainly didn’t have the time or resources to individually clean up every polluted waterway he came across, but he did have the capacity to teach and empower the people around him. His influence spread like wildfire, creating a movement that is still alive today through Clearwater’s continued efforts to educate the next generation.

Since sailing on the Clearwater isn’t a regular occurrence for children participating in the education programs, the onboard educators must focus less on cramming their 15-minute stations with information, and more on creating memorable and thought-provoking experiences. A two-hour sail is hardly enough time to change a person’s entire worldview, but it is certainly enough time to plant some seeds. What better way to do that than to get kids outside and grant them with a whole new perspective of their local environment? We all know that information sticks when it is made personal and given real world application. So, learning about river ecosystems and how their health affects surrounding communities is far more meaningful when you are a member of that community, learning about the ecosystem in your own backyard. It is much easier to be passionate about something that directly affects you, and that passion is contagious. This is one of the things that makes grassroots organizations like the Clearwater so effective. They inspire.

In an era when activists are incessantly being let down and discouraged by those in power, inspiration has never been at such a premium. We all need to be reminded from time to time why we are “fighting the good fight,” even when it feels like we’re just losing. Working with the kids and the passionate individuals on the Clearwater reminded me that I’m an environmentalist because someday, when the shit really hits the fan, I would like to look these children in the eyes and tell them with absolute certainty that I did everything in my power to provide them with a planet healthy enough to fulfill their most basic needs. I would like to entertain the possibility of future generations enjoying breathable air, drinkable water and workable land, and since I can’t fulfill this wild fantasy all by myself on a global scale, I really like the idea of fulfilling it locally. This is the beauty of place-based activism. It makes it possible to scale the world down to a more manageable size and do your part in checking off some of the issues on humanity’s “to-do list.” One of our favorite mantras on the Clearwater was, “many hands make light work.” This is true on a sailboat, yes; but it is also true in the environmental movement. If you want to change the world, start by changing your community, your lifestyle or even someone’s mind. You don’t have to have a seat in congress or astronomical sums of money; but you do need to have the courage to do your part and fight for the losing team. The good news is, if we do it right, we won’t be on the losing team much longer.

 

 

Five Lessons From A Year of Travel

A couple of months before graduating from high school, I visited my doctor for a routine check-up, during which she asked me about my plans for college. I smiled and explained that I did not have plans for college, but would instead be leaving the country after graduation and traveling for my foreseeable future. I was expecting her to hide her shock with forced words of support and encouragement, like many adults do after hearing my plans for after school. Instead she smiled back at me. “Well,” she said, “there’s no better classroom than the world.” One year later I can say without a doubt in my mind that she was right. Since this classroom doesn’t come with a formal lesson plan (thank god!!), I have taken it upon myself to write one up. So here it is: five lessons learned from 365 days of exploring the big, beautiful, awe-inspiring classroom that is our world. Enjoy!

1, It’s okay to do nothing. It took me pretty much a full calendar year outside of the public school system to realize that not every second of my life needs to be devoted to something “productive.” When I learned to allow myself time to be still, I realized the world went on just fine without me rushing around to change it. It’s okay to be still. It’s okay to just be.

2. Stranger danger is a myth. I owe all the best experiences in the past year of my life to strangers. Talking to strangers is how I got a job in Wales. It’s how I ended up working with Cycle With Women. It’s how I met all the people who I now share memories of hiking and sailing and surfing all over the world with. So DO talk to strangers… they don’t stay strangers for long anyway.   

3. If it doesn’t fit in a backpack, you probably don’t need it. Living out of a backpack for four months straight really makes you rethink the word “necessity.”

4. Situational happiness is as fleeting as the situation that prompts it. Learning this lesson really kicked my ass last year. Last October, after four months of non stop travel, I returned to my hometown to discover that all the excitement and joy I had experienced while I was away disappeared the second my plane landed in California. It was terrifying. I had been waiting for this point in my life for years, telling myself that when I was finally free to travel and live wherever I wanted, I would be happy. It took a lot of honest reflection to come to terms with the fact that true happiness doesn’t depend on how much or how far we travel. It doesn’t depend on anything but us and our ability to choose it over and over and over again, no matter the circumstances. It is both scary and incredibly empowering to realize we have full control over our emotions. So embrace the cliche- happiness REALLY IS a choice. (Don’t wait until your midlife crisis to realize it!)        

5. There is a balance to be found between making things happen and letting things happen. It didn’t take much time on the road for me to realize how futile meticulous planning can be. Just as “80 percent of life is showing up,” ninety nine percent of travel is getting on a plane, bus, boat or train and keeping an open mind. Plan too much and you close yourself off to all the beautifully unpredictable opportunities that make travel (and life) worthwhile. Don’t plan enough and you’ll never leave your house. Buy the ticket. Show up. The rest will fall into place on its own.

 

There are thousands of ways to learn. School is great. Reading is really great; but experience is even better. After all, there truly is no better classroom than the world.

 

…P.S. was that correct MLA format???

Cycling for Change

People often ask me about my favorite parts of traveling. What is my favorite city? My fondest memory? My best story? As someone who can hardly decide on a favorite film, I find these types of questions nearly impossible to answer. But over the past nine months of ping ponging between different countries and unconventional living situations, my go to response has been molded into a simple five words: It’s all about the people. Of all the fascinating characters I have had the pleasure of meeting, few have been as inspiring and as memorable as Helena Tucker and Marie Bauer- a pair of European cyclist whom I met while couch surfing in Italy this summer at the start of their bike-powered journey from Rome to Prague.

These women are badass. As if completing long distance bike tours through multiple countries in both Europe and Africa by themselves isn’t impressive enough, they have done it all while simultaneously starting a brilliant organization that enables them to give back along the way. Through this organization, Cycle With Women, Helena and Marie coordinate group bike trips for women of all ages and backgrounds as a way to raise money for local charities focused on women’s health in each country they visit. It is an organization run by women, for women. However, it’s not only the recipients of the donations who benefit from their work. They are also able to employ local guides, mechanics and chefs, while providing incredibly empowering experiences for anyone who joins in on the biking. Right now the tours are taking place in Malawi and Uganda, but they already have plans to expand the organization’s reach; plans that I am both excited and honored to be a part of. After spending an entire day biking around Rome with Helena and Marie, and sharing my plans to spend the next few years sailing around Central America, they offered me a position as one of Cycle With Women’s international expansion coordinators; meaning I would be in charge of contacting local charities and planning potential bike routes for a future tour through Central America. How could I say no?!

Cycle With Women is adventure, sustainability, charity, and women’s empowerment neatly rolled into one incredible organization, proving that there is no need to choose between doing what you love and making a difference. This simple idea has been a life changing realization for me, thanks to people like Helena and Marie who are leading by example. I have long had qualms about spending my time and energy jetting off from country to country for the sake of my own selfish pleasures when I know that energy could be better spent working on environmental or social causes. However, the more I am exposed to diverse, enthusiastic individuals, the more I understand that pursuing dreams is a noble endeavor in itself. Allowing passion to guide your life will direct you to the ways in which you can make the greatest difference; like how Marie and Helena’s passion for biking fueled the creation of their organization, and how my desire to travel led to our collaboration. Not to mention, every cause is more effective and impactful when driven by love. Of course, Helena and Marie know this. They live it, and they’re sharing it with the world, one mile at a time.

Want to be inspired? Check them out at cyclewithwomen.com and join them on their next trip! Watch this space for future tours through Central America, guided by me and the rest of the CWW crew. We can’t wait to see you out there!

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Cycle With Women’s founders, Marie (left) and Helen (right), enjoying golden hour in Rome.

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Can you tell we’re excited!?!?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conscious Travel pt.1: Waves for Water

Statistics regarding the global water crisis are staggering. According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, 663 million people on the planet do not have access to clean water. That means one tenth (one tenth!!!) of the global population is currently lacking a vital life source.

Reading those numbers off of a computer screen is impactful in itself; however it is an entirely different experience to meet and interact with the actual people behind this data. For those of us privileged enough to have limited exposure to these kind of living conditions, it can be dangerously easy to ignore the urgency of this epidemic, allowing the affected people to become nothing more than numbers. While collecting this quantitative data is extremely useful in understanding the extent of certain crises, classifying human beings solely by statistics and percentages is a slippery slope; one that can quickly become dehumanizing if we forget that these statistics are made up of complex individuals dealing with complex problems. It is easy to ignore a number. It is much harder to ignore real human suffering once you have witnessed it yourself.

The way I see it, the solution to the water crisis is twofold. It is about individual experiences (like witnessing real poverty) that inspire people to take individual action. My hope is that the story of my own experience with this topic may be the tiny spark of inspiration that ignites action in others, and in turn creates a movement of proactive young (and old!) people who are committed to change.

A few years ago, I heard about an organization, called Waves for Water, with the motto, “do what you love and help along he way.” Naturally, I was immediately interested, and began looking into their projects and mission. The idea of Waves for Water is to get surfers involved in humanitarian aid work within the countries they visit by providing them with water filters that can be easily assembled and distributed to impoverished communities. The more I thought about the idea, the more it made sense to me. Imagine the thousands of people from California alone who visit Mexico on vacation each year. Now, imagine if each of them brought along a water filter with the potential to provide clean water access to roughly one hundred people for years down the road. The impact would be huge. As an added plus, by going out into these communities, people are practicing empathy, broadening their life experiences, and combating their own ignorance by placing themselves in wildly different circumstances than those they are accustomed to. Its a win-win-win.

When the opportunity finally arrived for me to travel to areas with a need for these filtration systems, I decided to get involved. Why not? I started by asking for donations through social media, and was shocked by the generosity and enthusiasm with which people responded. After a few weeks it became pretty clear that the project was a definite go, and I began researching the San Carlos/ Guaymas region of Sonora, Mexico.

I had been told before that a huge part of working through Waves for Water is getting in touch with locals who are familiar with the area where you will be traveling, and will be ready to give you an idea of where the filters will have the biggest impact. After months of emailing with small non-profits and charity groups all over the area, I eventually got in touch with a Friar named Gerard who lives in Guaymas, and was as excited about the project’s potential as I was. A few days before heading back to the States to avoid hurricane season, my family and I, along with my best friend, met up with the Friar in an area less than an hour away from our Marina called The Valley, where we talked with the local people and saw their living conditions first hand.

I had seen conditions similar to those in The valley before, in border towns just south of San Diego while volunteering through an organization called Corazon. But after spending two months living within an hour drive of this town, the sight of lean-tos and dilapidated shacks stacked on top of one another hit a little closer to home. Growing up in a fairly affluent suburban neighborhood, I had always thought of poverty as something that was happening “somewhere else.” In my mind, poverty was happening in far-flung areas of third world countries; not in my safe, cozy, Californian neighborhood. And in many ways,  I was right. But this particular third world country had become my home, and seeing these living conditions right outside of a place I had grown to love made me realize that claiming an issue is occurring “somewhere else” is really just a lazy way of saying “I’m not interested.” If you remove yourself too far from the problems of the world, you begin to forget why you should care about your fellow man; but if you place yourself in the center of these problems, and if you turn “somewhere else” into “right here,” it is impossible to remain indifferent.

Gerard turned out to perfectly embody this idea of placing yourself in the middle of the world’s problems. In order to become a Friar, an individual must make certain vows, one of which is a vow to poverty. This means that as a Friar, Gerard is living among those he is serving. It is important to acknowledge that this vow is a vow of poverty, not destitution. He is certainly not living in a lean-to on the side of the road, but he does live in an area where this is a common sight. He speaks with the people in his surrounding community, he understands their needs and he empathizes with them. When we came to him with the filters, he knew exactly where they would be put to the best use, and didn’t hesitate to show us around.

Once we had assembled the filters (a simple procedure of attaching a hose to a plastic bucket), Gerard showed us around the Casa Franciscana Mission where he lives and works, as well as the mobile clinic where some of the filters would be put to use. The clinic, which is literally a mobile home stocked with medical equipment, is brought into communities all over the area that do not have access to healthcare. Now they will be able to provide people with not only basic healthcare, but also clean water. The local woman who runs the clinic informed us that many of the women in the community will be very excited about their new access to clean water, as it will mean less parasites in their children’s stomachs. However, the men- many of whom suffer from severe cases of alcoholism- will lose one of their best excuses for over drinking. In communities where the water is unsafe to drink, it is often replaced with beverages like soda or alcohol, since both options tend to be similar in cost to the jugs of potable water sold in the local markets. If they must pay either way, they may as well pay for the drinks they prefer. While this lowers their risk of water-related health problems like parasites, it only worsens other problems, such as poor dental health, diabetes, alcoholism, liver damage, etc.

Hearing all this made me realize just how complex the water crisis truly is. All of the issues that contribute to the cycle of poverty- water crisis included- are intricately connected, meaning we cannot combat one without at least acknowledging the others. I thought we would come into Guaymas, drop off the filters, and leave knowing that everyone in the surrounding community would happily be drinking clean water.

Simple.

In reality, the filters are just one part of a multifaceted issue. Now that these people can drink safe water, they must be educated about why they should drink it. Gerard told a story about one of the local men who said they had tried filtered water before, but preferred normal water because the clean stuff was “tasteless.” Many of these people don’t even know they are drinking dirty water, meaning they certainly don’t know how it is effecting their health. This means that the water crisis is not only a result of contaminated water sources, but also a lack of educational opportunities.

The fact that all the elements contributing to the water crisis- and poverty as a whole- are so varied and interconnected can be discouraging. But, it is important to remember that no one can solve all of these problems alone. Everyone can, however, be a small part of the solution; and each piece of the solution is equally vital to the success of any cause. In order to solve the water crisis, we need organizations like Waves for Water. We need people who are willing to distribute the filters. We need other people who are passionate about education and are working on making it accessible to third-world communities, and we need even more people to spread the word about the issue and how to get involved. My point is, everyone brings something to the table. The only way to solve an issue as daunting as the water crisis is by utilizing our growing population and inspiring individuals to do their part, because individuals turn into incredibly impactful movements when they ban together under a common goal. Keeping this in mind, I encourage you to be a part of something bigger, bring your own skills to the table, leave your comfort zone and be a part of the solution, even if it just means packing a few water filters on your next trip….

In the mean time, I hope the following photos grant a bit of perspective, exposure and inspiration!

P.S. HUGE thank you to everyone who donated to this little project! Take a look at the lives you changed!!

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A local man proudly standing in front of his home (pictured below). A few weeks before this photo was taken, a windstorm blew down the half of his house where his kitchen used to be. He told us this with a laugh and a big smile, joking about how he no longer had a place to drink his morning coffee.

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The remaining half…

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The “matriarch” of the village, (second from the left) who welcomed us into her home and told us about life in the area. Her walls were covered with gifts from different people in her life. Needless to say, she is deeply loved by the people here.

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The village’s current water source.

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Not quiteeee it! Testing out the filtration system a bit prematurely… 😉 A hose attaches to that hole in the bucket, which connects to a small filter. Dirty water goes in and gravity does the rest, providing the user with clean, potable water!

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Gerard showing us around The Valley.

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Sid, John and I dropping the filters off at the mobile clinic. These people are doing amazing things!

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Overlooking the village. On the other side of the hill is the city of Guaymas, and about 45 minutes down the freeway is the city of San Carlos. Both cities are fairly popular vacation spots, which goes to show how easy it is to find areas in need while on vacation, even if you’re staying at a beach front resort. Swapping one day of sunbathing for a day of giving back is always worth it.

Visit http://www.wavesforwater.org to get involved, and remember WHAT YOU DO MATTERS!