Category: Travel

The Art of Travel

The interconnections of the modern world make it look small, even though it’s anything but. We could easily see seven continents in seven days, but that doesn’t mean we own them. To get the most out of travel we gotta change the way we do it. Throw some creativity into smarter travel, spice it up with a little adventure, and you can feel the dilation of your mind’s eye. Regiment the dosage for the realization that our differences are just a matter of perception, and in spite of the cliché, are only skin deep. The insurmountable beauty of earth and her passengers isn’t just a sight to behold, it’s an experience that compels us to live it and love it to the fullest.

DIY Photo Tour of San Francisco

Traveling the West Coast with a camera and an empty wallet? Take this hobo photographer’s insights for capturing the best of San Francisco over a day with meager resources on hand.

Northern Californya’s one hell of a photogenic part of the world, but if you’re trying to make the most of it in a short time, San Francisco’s got plenty to offer.

Map of Your Trip in San FranciscoYour trip through the city can go any which way, but if you follow mine, you’ll do best with your own car. If you don’t have a car, the Bay has a supreme (by American standards) transport system called The Bart, which should be able to transport you to most places for reasonable costs. Click the map on the left to see where we’re going.

San Francisco and the Bay
I started my photo journey a little before noon at Twin Peaks for a supreme view of the Golden Gate Bridge (left), the city, Oakland and the rest of the Bay (right).

Street Art of Haight and Ashbury
One of the best things you’ll find in the Bay is the street art, particularly in San Francisco and Oakland. A great place to soak up some public art and a happening vibe is the Haight-Ashbury District. The tourist business may have replaced the Haight’s rebellious counter-culture of the 60’s, but it still makes for a cool afternoon walk.

Street Art in the Mission
Another spot with great art and the buzz of busy humans is the Mission District.

The Transamerica Pyramid
Now we’ll start with a look at some of the city’s more iconic sights. From here the route will take us through the heart of SOMA and the rat-racy CBD. There’s endless shopping and high-end restaurants here, but we’ll skip all that luxury nonsense for sights like the Embarcadero, Telegraph Hill, Chinatown and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Fisherman at Baker’s Beach
With any luck we’ll have enough time to make it down to Baker’s Beach by sunset. I had the good fortune of catching a local fisherman at work trying to nab some dinner for the evening.

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker's Beach
Snapping the bridge from Baker’s Beach was a quintessential moment for me. Depending on the time of year, there’s enough room to enjoy yourself, but also plenty of people to socialize with.

The Transamerica Pyramid Framed by the Golden Gate
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty cool at night, and it’s free to leave the city, but do so carefully; it’s 6 bucks to come back in. Take the first exit after the bridge on the right, cross back under it and follow the road up the hill for several fantastic vantage points of the bridge. Park the car before the roundabout and track the bright light from downtown until you see the Transamerica Pyramid framed by the bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge at Night
On the way back down be sure to stop at the Battery Spencer, get out and walk towards the cliff and see if you can snap the classic bridge-by-night scene.

Final Note: San Francisco’s a wildly expensive place. If you’re really trying to pinch your pennies here, keep an eye out for different foods on carts or in little “holes in the wall.” Pay especially close attention to parking signs when you leave the car. If you aren’t careful, you’ll wind up in the wrong zone and pay something like $75 for that.

Gem & Jam 2014 Recap and Review

Cutting our way from southern Colorado, we descended the gorgeous canyons near the Salt River onto the Sonoran Desert.

Tucson SaguaroAs the landscape started filling in with Saguaros, the antiquarian masters of the desert, we knew we were finally entering a new exciting world, the land of transformational festivals, where mystery, beauty and art are explored with open minds from around the world.

The Gem & Jam Festival is the musical and artistic complement to Tuscon’s Gem & Mineral Shows, the world’s largest collection of gorgeous raw and cut stones.

The Slaughterhouse, Tucson
These days I’m disenfranchised with the massively popular, super-corporate festivals, but Gem & Jam’s venue The Slaughterhouse was the right size for all the visionary art and music I could handle. As a former meat-packing plant that usually hosts haunted houses, It’s kind of an eerie place, but the indoor and outdoor stages set the right vibe for transformational fun.

The Wooks of Gem & JamGem & Jam is a wook-fest. If you’re like me and cringe at the sight of candy kids at raves, or barely stop yourself from fighting douchers at EDM shows, check out the brighter side of “the wookening.” Wooks are hairy creatures from strange and different planets. Their lifestyle doesn’t fit any other that I’ve discovered yet. They dress like trendy hobos, eat more psychoactives than food, and generally go to the land of no control. I’m no wook, but I’m more at home with the happy, reckless wook-style than the other wacky electronic scenes.

Highlights from the first night included Desert Dwellers, and Paul Basic and Supervision from the Pretty Lights Label. Supervision threw down some killer scratching, something I hadn’t seen at past shows and something he really needs to do more often.

The Motet at Gem & Jam
The first night’s standout was Colorado’s own renowned funk band, The Motet, who gave a proper shout-out to themselves as the only live band at a festival without many of ‘em. Thank God for the funk.

The second night was highlighted by Russ Liquid, a surprisingly versatile trumpet player who knows how to rock a show. Thriftworks produces a unique blend of trippy-ass sounds that eventually made us feel like we were leaving our bodies for another dimension. An interesting experience but I’d rather be on earth to feel the full festi-experience.

The Wooks of Gem & JamNot everyone agrees with me though. This girl literally blasted off into the next dimension on a DMT trip right underneath the stage. After 20 minutes or so she came back and seemed alright, but she was without her friends. This shows the importance of taking care of your friends at these events.

Elliot Lipp is one of my favorite producers, and he also played a great set during the second night that featured a lot of his greatest hits. His DJ skills are supreme, pulling little pieces from his songs that pan into the full song some of the time, but other times don’t and leave me tingling and wantin’ more.

The Wooks of Gem & JamAlex Grey’s visionary psychedelic art has captured the attention of people from around the world, and I was pleased to see his blissed-out demeanor while he painted with his wife Allyson and the musicians by his side. He humbly meets and greets his many fans, signing autographs and engaging in conversation with anyone who approaches him. Listening to him speak about the growing “love tribe” brought a serene lucidity to everybody there:

The indoor stage filled to the brim for Bluetech, whose melodic, flowing rhythms kept us dancing hard well past midnight. Mimosa closed out the night and unfortunately he only played one of his decent older songs. As we made our swift escape, we knew we made the right choice ‘cause the new “music” felt like it was ripping at the core of my very being.

The third night finally arrived and we couldn’t believe the festival was about to come to a close. Really upset at missing Lynx’s set, Govinda opened our night with some of that tasty bass we live for. Love & Light took it easy by holding back on the womps from the days-of-dubstep-old. Despite a generally choppy flow, they played a surprisingly fun and exciting set.

Random Rab at Gem & JamRandom Rab, the king of happy, good times, played with his friend Cedar on the drums. Rab’s known for setting legendary good vibes, and he sure didn’t disappoint at Gem & Jam this year. If you haven’t seen Rab yet, especially one of his famous sunrise sets, my advice to you is do it!

BoomBox at Gem & Jam 2014BoomBox brought their 70’s porno style that seems to travel with ‘em everywhere they go. Their sexy grooves are guaranteed to light up the night, unless they’re shut down in the middle of a song, which is exactly what happened. I guess Tucson has some strict laws on this stuff, but this was the weakest, most unceremonious ending to a festival I’ve ever seen.

Fire DancingI’m continuously impressed with the on-stage performers who dance, twirl fire and paint alongside the festival’s musical artists. Even random people hooping in the crowds are fun to watch. Regardless how people contribute to transformational festivals, it’s following through on our intentions to bring joy, healing, inspiration, fulfillment and peace into the world that makes a difference. This is our generation’s chance to leave our mark.

The Mystic Team: Dave & LaceyThe need to expand our collective horizons beyond the material world of money and basic needs has become painfully obvious. It’s time to reconnect with our higher, visionary core and rekindle our uniquely human drive for creativity and souls’ connections. Transformational festivals such as Gem & Jam foster a space to collectivize our creative efforts. The community artistic awakening that’s been blowing up around the world over the last several years is the kind of energy we should cherish to leave a brighter world for our grandkids, and I’m gonna keep participating in it any way I can.

West Coastin the Pacific Northwest

In spite of only scaring one girl with my homelessness, my first trip North by Northwest was brilliant. Hangin with friends old and new, puffin tough, eatin tasty foods, drum and bass shows (whaat?), and snapping great photos in gorgeous places (see ‘em below) made it a trip I won’t forget.

Check the journey’s video log at the bottom (totally worth it)!

I thought backpacking in my car would be a breeze, but I learned it isn’t all peaches and cream.

PROS of traveling in my car:

1. Traveling with 40-50 pounds of gear OFF my back
2. Being transport commander brings the ultimate freedom to MOVE
3. Even though my little car’s a sedan, it doubled up as a good home in a pinch

CONS of traveling in my car:

1. Long highways + high gas prices = lonely, expensive roads
2. I nearly lost my mind dealing with parking and traffic jams in CBD’s
  • Solution: Parking the car at transit hubs & jumping on local trains & busses
3. Got some problems with my piloting style?
  • Solution: Well you kind sirs can stfd and stfu. You’re stressing me out when you get all scared about my revelation that I don’t even have to look at the road while I’m driving.

Journey route: it takes about 20 hours to reach the West Coast from Colorado.

After watching tweaker dramas through the holes in the walls of our hotel, and being woken up by an antsy cop for poaching camp in the woods, we left Redding, California for greener pastures.

Next stop was Oregon’s Crater Lake, which fills the remnants of a volcano that exploded 7,700 years ago. The cone inside the lake is another volcano that bubbled up about 400 years after the former volcano crumbled in on itself.

After a spontaneous friendsgiving in Portland, I got so involved in the music scene that I forgot I even had a camera.

The only photo I took in Portland was a good one though: the Nightmares on Wax live band!

Oregonians are across the board a smiling, friendly people. I picked up happy, warm vibes the whole time I was there, making it hard to leave. But I can always hear my name being called around that next bend in the road.

For me longer travel is a test of the will since it shakes me out of my routine, but I deal with it by recognizing that the adjustments I make to life on the road are ultimately a small price to pay for the deep value that really slow travel brings.

Loneliness is rarely a problem when arranging rideshares through Craigslist and Couchsurfing. The ability to preview potential ride-alongs through CS makes it an especially great tool to see if they’re an agreeable personality for the ride. It’s a great way to cut down fuel costs as well!

My traveler spirit’s felt a little dormant since coming home from Asia last year. I’m not exactly sure why San Francisco did the trick, but it’s the place where my nomadic-self came fully back online.

I think it was the city’s vibrant art, music, architecture and people that helped me remember how to do it: quiet the ego when it says I. I. Me…and let the camera view the world with 3rd eye vision. Slow down and let the tides of travel flow on the shores of life.

Street art is ever-present and truly epic in San Francisco and Oakland. How come every city in the world isn’t doing this?! Imagine how much prettier and vivacious the concrete jungles could be…

There’s something about the Golden Gate that pulls on the strings of my imagination, inspiring a few good photos:

Baker’s Beach is a classic spot for some bridge action.

I had to grab the classic bridge-by-night.

If you’re wondering how I spent two months on the road, rest assured it was done by barely scraping by. I’m slowly mastering the art, so I’m gonna write a hobo’s guide to traveling on your bottom dollar sometime soon.

Barely hangin on didn’t stop my trip down Highway 1 from being one of my favorites in the US. The raw, natural beauty of the coastline from central California through Washington is surreal. I got into some fun photography in the Big Sur area. I’ll let the photos do the talking:

I’ve been loving lunar photography lately. This one with a sunset over the Pacific hit me right in the heart.

Astonishing that a young industrial heiress used to live here, at McWay Falls on the Big Sur coast.

As the incomprehensively massive Pacific surf nearly destroyed both sides of the rock I was on, I captured my most rewarding picture yet.

It was a unique shot for me cause I haven’t nearly died so many times in a photo shoot before. I’ve never been so terrified of being swallowed up by the ocean, but this was THE place for the shot. I had to get it. I’ve had enough brushes with death to be at peace with my inevitable transition, but I can think of better ways to do it than being swept off a cliff, split open on the rocks below and sucked out to sea.

In the photo we have Big Sur’s classic sea boulders underneath a nearly full moon. The orange glow is the neighboring towns of Carmel by the Sea and Monterey. A fairly huge meteorite was pulled into orbit while the shutter was open, but sadly didn’t pass in front of the lens. The camera did catch a plane passing through the shot however: the yellow streak through the middle of the sky. In the distance some sea lions added their magic to the moment as they flopped around on the rocks and barked at the moon, or whatever sea lions bark at.

After meeting some fantastic family members for the first time, I creeped around Los Angeles til I found this little spot.

Another favorite: Venus in the Delicate Arch during sunset.

This one became another infamous shot as I took a major slide right up to the edge of a massive cliff while setting up. Just after the shot, I witnessed the setting of Venus for the first time. As the planet exploded into a firey orange on the horizon, I thought my eyes were lying little bastards. It was too good to be true. At the time I knew the camera could do no justice so I didn’t snap, but now I wish I had at least a partial memory of the occasion. This is how we learn I guess…

If you’re into photography and enjoyed this round, be sure to check out my page on 500px. It’s turning into my personal best collection, plus we can be friends on there, and share EVERYTHING together. Don’t be creeped out, I just wanna see your photos too.

Coming off the delicious high of a two year trip through east Asia left me with a travel hangover, but this trip turned out to be another 3rd eye opener.

Travel in the so-called 3rd world is imbued with magic, but I finally realized you don’t have to be surrounded by exotica to reach the wondrously high plateau of long travel.

What’s the lesson from this trip?

The most successful travelers reduce their expectations to what’s happening in the moment, and continuously live these moments until they’re totally immersed in the travel experience. And then they do it all again.

2013’s Pacific Northwest Video Log

Got Culture?

I struggled to understand the concept of culture even while I studied for an anthropology degree. Eventually I learned it’s what societies say is and isn’t ok.. It’s passed on by way of friends, family, school, religion…

Regardless if you’re living the tribal dream or running the rat race, we’re all governed by culture.

I’ve heard a lotta people say America doesn’t have culture. Oh the absurdity. It nearly knocks me out my seat. Every cohesive society has culture, just as every group accepts and rejects certain behaviors.

Nigeria’s Igbo show wealth by collecting yams, and sexual worth by getting fat.

Los Angelinos show wealth with conspicuous consumption, and boost appeal with silicone.

Let’s take a look through my emic (insider’s) perspective (anthropologists: don’t hate). To me America has an exceptionally commercial core, and human connection is remarkably shallow.

After returning from a multi-year trip around the world, renowned philosopher and poet Aleister Crowley remarked that:

“Neither Europe nor Africa can show such desolation as America. The proudest, stubbornest, bitterest peasant of deserted Spain; the most primitive and superstitious Arab of the remotest oases, these are little more than kin and never less than kind at their worst; whereas in the United States one is almost always conscious of an instinctive lack of sympathy and understanding with even the most charming and cultured people.”

It’s not a lack of culture in the US that caused Crowley’s feelings of isolation, but a culture partially centered around separation (individuality), totalitarian work (production), and wealth (greed).

I don’t believe we modern Americans have to bear the blame for this.

As byproducts of our cultural lineage, we owe our denatured community experience to “intellectual” developments starting around 800 years ago in Western Europe.

As the conquistadores started seething around the globe, the depth and range of human ingenuity in various places throughout the world made the Europeans of the time look like the brutes that many of them were.

With so many people living today, there’s practically an infinite number of cultural models to follow. The problem is, human diversity’s fading as fast as the market economy expands.

As Anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis suggested in his Ted Talk, cultural diversity today faces far graver threats than environmental diversity.

The technology produced by Western societies has changed the world for a long time to come. Whether you love it, hate it or leave it, industrial culture’s made one hell of an assault on the sacred, or humanity’s original religious, animistic beliefs.

The dogmas of monotheism and the age of reason eventually created cultural views that demystified the experience of life. Eventually all religion had to be removed from the state, creating a vacuum filled by the “advancements” of science and profiteering.

The Tyranny of the MajorityWhat happens when you figure out your culture’s mostly insane, when you see democracy can be a weapon of evil under a tyrannizing or (in this case) all-too-complacent majority? Do you love it, and run the wheel in the hope of catching that sweet sweet cheddar? Do you hate it, and become an ascetic by devoting yourself to ancient texts? Or do you combine the two, sell your stuff and journey around the world?

Now we’re talking…The time is right to build a new frame of mind around concepts like cooperation over competition, community over individuality, and respect over exploitation…

And maybe the path isn’t righteous at all. Maybe it’s simply honored by respecting the beauty of life in recognizing that we aren’t more rightful owners of the planet than whales, birds or (especially?) mushrooms…Of course creatures die for others to live, but non-humans operate in the circle of life much differently than we of the industrial cultures do.

By now you’re probably thinking that I hate American culture.

No friggin’ way. Despite its crazy contradictions, I love being an American!

But it wasn’t until I started traveling that my perception of home really started making tectonic shifts.

Sonic Bloom 2013 Preview

One of the harder things to cope with while growing up in the US is an education system that prioritizes problem solving. An indispensable skill in the modern world no doubt, but it comes with the cost of leaving us ill-equipped to deal with the infinite complexities of existence outside of the here and now. Young Americans are left searching for something more.

Although traveling’s my favorite way to quickly wizen up, it’s only one amongst a million. One of the greatest things about life in the US is the growing movement seeking wisdom outside traditional institutions. It’s a movement powered by diversity and creativity, and tends to come together in camping and music festivals around the world. I’m lucky to call Colorado my home since it’s hosting Sonic Bloom, an amazing festival offering the chance to shape the collective efforts of Expanding Consciousness.

The 8th annual Sonic Bloom’s gonna be the place to grow The Trinity [Mind, Body & Soul] this festival season. Like other Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festivals, it centers around the core ritual of ecstatic dance, but also promises to boost The Body with activities like yoga classes, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and belly-dance classes. Located at Shadow’s Ranch near Georgetown, Colorado, the rolling hills and rivers of the Rocky Mountains frame a perfect backdrop for a little body enrichment.

Gaia by Alex Grey

Workshops on topics as diverse as earthship biotecture, Crossing the Event Horizon (based on Jungian psychology), sacred sound, Hindu metaphysics, and Toltec healing are being hosted to open pathways in The Mind. Jamie Janover’s presenting on an emerging “Unified Field Theory” which explains the evolution of the forces of nature and consciousness with references to ancient codes and architecture.

There’s over a hundred artists on hand this year to move the power of Soul. From musicians, to painters and drawers, to dancers and culinary masters, there’s enough inspiration here to get your fill for months. Some of the big musicians playing this year are Grouch & Eligh, Opiuo, Random Rab, Bluetech, Zilla, The Polish Ambassador, Minnesota, Phutureprimitive, Andreilien (Heyoka), Wick-it, ill-Esha, Love & Light, Future Simple Project, Russ Liquid…

Forest Medicine by Jamie Kaminskas

Sonic Bloom’s an exceptional gathering since it’s moving beyond the commercial party that characterizes bigger festivals to a place where awareness and creativity are fostered through intentional community building. It’s a place where we’ll find people working towards a unified spiritual field without dogma, doctrines or charismatic leaders, a place where each person can construct their own universal views with the support of other like-minded people.

I’ve been granted a press pass by the good folks pulling the show together, so stay tuned for a video log from my experience. For more information about the journey of transformational festivals, see the incredible series co-produced by Jeet-Kei Leung and Akira Chan, The Bloom.

Blowing Stuff Up with Colorado Fireworks

Remembering that the Good Life isn’t all intensity and no fun, we took to the backyard for a little spring cleaning. The latest Colorado fireworks laws and fire bans make it hard to have our pyrotechnic fun, but a snow storm helped us find our way. Mix a little boredom and some extra junk and here’s what you get. Since it’s sure to be another desert-like summer, this’ll probably be our last chance to play with fire for the season.

Filipino Street Food: Balut (Fertilized Duck Eggs)

The bus rolled with a jerky unease, escalating my debilitating cravings for food. The smoky green fields ceased their race towards the volcanoes as they met the concrete jungle.

Manila has a nasty reputation as a city clouded by the darker aspects of humanity, but traveling’s taught me that colorful cultures tend to create the most exciting and savory dishes.

My host has the pudgy, effeminate features Filipinas are known for. She’s a master caterer and a confident guide on my zealous quest for local delicacies.

She knows the place, and the market seems to fit the bill: barbeque carts, stray dogs, and warm, billowing smoke carrying the rapturing smells of authentic grub. My stomach’s reaching the peak of a howling crescendo, but she assures me we’ve found the remedy.

We’ve come to the right place. The municipality of Pateros is famous for producing balut, a fertilized duck embryo that found its place on Filipino tables after Chinese traders brought it from the north.

After 15 days of gestation, the fertilized eggs are ready to sell. They’ve just popped up from the buckets of sand that conceal their warmth, and I’m shocked.

Through my lens, a fetal duck seems oddly out of place against a backdrop of hot sauce and vinegar, but she consoles my queasiness with the reminder that “it’s more fun in the Philippines!” The locals are ever-happy to see a foreigner try their food, and a small crowd forms to watch.

Now retreat’s as likely as it is for the frontline warrior, so the hatch opens up and finds a surprising medly. The texture’s from an atrociously different world, but the infusion of tastes collaborate to charm my former hunger problem. The congregation’s pleased with my reaction and return to their business.

I’ve tried everything from scorpions to chicken brains during my year in China, but I missed the chance to sample the original Chinese version of fertilized eggs. Now I’ll have at least one clear goal for my next trip to the Middle Kingdom.

To see the search for & battle with balut, click here & watch between 0:22 & 3:44.

Chinese Lion Dance – Tet New Year, Saigon, Vietnam

The video shows a traditional Chinese lion dance in Vietnamese style at a Tet New Year’s celebration in central Saigon. The custom comes from a Chinese tradition called “cái ching” (青採) which translates to “vegetable pick.” The meanings of Chinese words are often connected when they share similar sounds, especially when the associated meaning is really positive or really negative. Since “cái” (青) has the same pronunciation as “cái” (财), or fortune, “cái ching” is meant to be an auspicious occasion.

In the “cái ching” tradition, different types of vegetables are hung outside of businesses or homes as a challenge for the lion to obtain. The more difficult the challenge, the fatter the red envelope of “lucky money” to be rewarded.

This picture taken in Vancouver’s Chinatown shows how it was done in the days of old when the lettuce was hung 15 to 20 feet above the ground and only the best martial artists could reach it.

Today the competition is usually acted out in dance. The lion dance, and sometimes the dragon dance, are performed for important occasions including cultural and religious festivals, business openings, birthdays and wedding ceremonies. The Vietnamese have adapted their own style to the Chinese lion dance, as seen above.

Volunteering in Ecuador

Below you’ll find the photo essay that I submitted to a National Geographic photo journal competition over at WorldNomads.

The Introductory Essay
Photos often capture a single moment in time, but great photos have the ability to tell an evolving story. Exceptional photography reveals a continuum in the subject’s past, present and future, and becomes an art when it invites the viewer to feel and contemplate the scene within.

By American standards my family isn’t wealthy, but I learned the relativity of wealth while traveling. I gained a new perspective by living with some of the two billion people who survive on a dollar a day. After these tremendous experiences, my attending university, teaching English in China, and buying a nice camera suddenly felt like astounding privileges that many people only dream of. The beauty of travel is the people that we meet along the way. Everyone has a story to tell, and particularly in the ‘Global South,’ these stories inevitably center around the improvement of their own lives.

Before entering a developing country, I try to understand their political and economic development. What have they already achieved and how do they want to continue advancing? Have they been able to help themselves, or are they dependent on outsiders for assistance? My natural interest in observing human transformation led me to study anthropology where I learned when and how it was appropriate to participate in social and economic change.

When I arrive in a new country, my camera snaps freely during my first interactions with the new host culture. The excitement of photography is in the simultaneous development in front of the lens and behind the viewfinder. A camera is an intersection of change between a photographer’s internal transformation and the unfolding human saga in the larger world.

My camera is an ever-present companion in my travels, but I feel as if we are still becoming acquainted. With it in-hand during particularly spectacular moments, I feel blessed at the opportunity to share a piece of the diversity, beauty and strife that we collectively create. Travel photography is the best and only way that I know how to educate and inspire positive action in myself and in others.

The Photo Essay

Welcome to Ganquis, a town located in the high cordillera of the Ecuadorian Andes. Although the town has a dirt road connecting it to a highway about an hour away, it is very rural, not even appearing on most maps. The children’s faces are chapped because it takes around 15 years for their skin to adapt to the chilly, windy environment.

We came to Ganquis as a group of students from university associated through Engineers Without Borders. Ten months prior to our arrival in Ecuador was a period of intense planning since our project involved sophisticated engineering. It isn’t easy to design a gravity-fed water system that descends nearly 3,000 vertical feet of steep Andean mountains. The force behind the water would have literally ripped the system apart without pressure break tanks like this one.

Although we applied our technical skills and labor to the system, the locals soon showed us who was boss. I felt that I was making a formidable accomplishment as I hauled a 100lb. bag of concrete around the mountain at 14,000 feet above sea level until I was passed by a man about half my size carrying two bags! This picture captures a local woman in a rare moment of repose.

These two women, Maria and Consuela, faithfully prepared an early breakfast for us before we set out and a tasty dinner after we returned from working on the system. Even though they had grown up in Ganquis and understood the material luxuries of a life in the city, they have chosen to stay in the village and focus on family life.

One of the central ideas behind our project’s goal of sustainability is that the village should be self-reliant in the construction and repairs of the water system. This crew became the first to construct a tap stand on their own. As the concrete dries, their confidence and happiness exudes from bringing clean drinking water to Ganquis for the first time.

Thanks for reading.
You can see a couple more photos from my EWB trip to Ecuador HERE.

Making a Difference by Volunteering Abroad

Volunteer UgandaVolunteering is a great break from the “rigors” of long-term travel, or a nice way to make a commitment while traveling. Sometimes people plan trips specifically for the purpose of volunteering because it presents the opportunity to stay in one place for much longer than you do while backpacking. You’ll learn a lot more about the people, customs, and life cycle of the area you are visiting, and you’ll make stronger social connections than you ever likely would while backpacking.

There are endless voluntourism possibilities out there, and some are much better than others. This is a preliminary and basic list of volunteer abroad programs, but it will be periodically updated and expanded over time.

My Favorite Sites
WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms)
WWOOF-ing is a chance to work abroad on farms in exchange for room and board. You can learn a lot about organic farming and make some great friends while WWOOF-ing. With hosts available in over 53 countries, there’s an opportunity for everyone. For more info check out A First-Timer’s Guide to WWOOF-ing.

Work Away
For only 22 Euros, you can have 2 year access to Work Away’s impressive list of host contacts throughout the world. The idea is similar to WWOOF-ing, but isn’t limited to agricultural work exchange. You can contact people all around the world looking for help in the tourism business, construction, animal care, sailing, language teaching, and the list really does go on. Work Away’s strength is in its community of good people.

You can browse and contact Ecoteer’s volunteer placements for £15 per year, or get lifetime access for a one-time fee of £25. It’s the same idea as Workaway except you’ll generally be contacting relief and aid organizations rather than private citizens. There are wide number of arenas to work in, including Ecotourism, Conservation, Teaching, Humanitarian, Research, and Organic Farming. They’ve listed many placements, however you won’t find as many opportunities here as Work Away.

Escape the City
With the same kind of volunteer opportunities as Ecoteer, Escape the City makes a cut above the rest by catering to young professionals looking for a break from corporate offices for real travel adventures. It’s even possible to land good-paying jobs on this site. With the same format as LinkedIn, you can create a browse-able profile to advertise yourself to employers looking for people with a certain set of skills. Escape the City is “on a mission to liberate talented people from corporate jobs that don’t excite them.” How couldn’t you get excited for this one?

Other Volunteering Opportunities
Sea Turtle Restoration Project
Sea Turtle ConservationThis is just one organization amongst countless others where you can bide your time to help protect one of the ocean’s coolest creatures, the sea turtle. Most of these organizations are based at nesting beaches and sometimes even look for help for just one night.

HF Holidays
Volunteer to help with HF Holidays, whose mission is to help people enjoy the great outdoors. They encourage people to take a break from the rat race, and you too can become a part of it by volunteering as a trip leader.

Appalaichan Trail Conservancy, USA
Help protect and promote the health and vitality of the diverse ecosystems of the 2000+ mile Appalachian Trail in east coast region of the United States. Help with trail building and maintenance in return for very basic accommodation and food.

Volunteer at a Kibbutz in Israel
Become a part of a highly social community living off the land in Israel. Experience a different kind of life in Israel and use the time outside of work to explore this controversial country. The site linked to is about an English backpacker’s personal experience at a Kibbutz. He offers a lot of information about going to Israel and what it’s like to live there.

Engineers Without Borders
EWB is an organization interested in promoting development projects all around the world. Their principle goal is to fund and build sustainable projects that help people achieve basic human needs. They collaborate with a number of professionals from a variety of fields including engineering, public health, anthropology and business. If you aren’t a student, it’s possible to become involved as a corporate partner in fundraising and other activities.

I volunteered with EWB while attending university, and traveled to the Ecuadorian Andes to build a water system to bring fresh water to a village for the first time. Read and see more about my experience there in my photo essay from Ecuador.

Meet Dave

Meet DaveUnfulfilled by consumer lifestyles, I left on a really slow trip around the world. As a 3rd eye traveler on the New American Dream, my aim is to inspire and cultivate conscious living along the way....Read More...

Random Video

Koh Phagnan Full Moon Party

Random Inspiration

If a man can keep alert and imaginative, an error is a possibility, a chance at something new. To him, wandering and wondering are a part of the same process. And he is most mistaken, most in error whenever he quits exploring.
William Least Heat-Moon



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