Ecuador and conscious tourism; sadly not.

Anna - slide-42-728Last year, Ecuador held a conference called ‘Conscious Tourism’, which was hailed as a wonderful success and a beacon to lead the way forward for tourism. Ecuador made a very bold statement then.

This new strategy was based on the principles of sustainability and ethics; and promoted the values ​​of peace, friendship, respect and love of life as the essence of tourist practice.

n american may the sun, blessingI chose the slide above from the presentation made by the keynote speaker and founder of Conscious Travel, Anna Pollock. It is a beautiful saying from Malaysia, that captures how the very wise indigenous people see our planet. The Native Americans knew/know how precious our wondrous planet is, they used only what they needed to live. They did not have laws, they did not need them. They looked out for each other and lived peacefully, and America was bountiful. Then the white man came and brought the evils of egos and empires, and America changed beyond recognition. It’s the same in most countries. I haven’t gone off on a tangent, it’s not too late to listen to what they say, it’s not too late to save this planet. But . . . . .

Reading what had been said at the conference by representatives of different countries and of the UNWTO; I, and many others, were filled with a new hope. No more of the old industrial model of mass tourism, but a new respect for what each country has, their unique cultures and characteristics.

And now there is a race to save Ecuador’s Yasuni national park from the oil lobby. Green groups are frantically campaigning for a petition to force a national referendum to block President Correa’s unilateral sanction for drilling. Yet again, it’s all about the money and not nature that gives us life.

Talk is easy, the annual conferences have ‘leaders’ of tourism, saying wonderfully scripted promises for the future – but it is action we need. Action and a shared aim to conserve and celebrate what we have and not just go on developing for its own sake. We do not need same old, same old . . . . We need determined change, we need commitments from governments to make the changes. 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Wat Phonm.

WatPhnom_PhnomPenh_2005_2When we visited Cambodia this year, it was mainly because my son had said it was such a beautiful country and the people were too. He wasn’t wrong, Cambodia is fascinating.

We stayed at local little hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Phen and travelled the distant between them by local coach. We were trying to travel as consciously as possible, so we used local transport, local tuktuk drivers, local hotels, local shops and local street food places. And we had a ball, I can’t begin to tell you how much we enjoyed getting to know more about the people and their culture.

Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia and has been since the mid 15th century; (prior to that it was Angkor).  It’s former name was Chaktomuk, (the Four Faces) meaning it was situated at the four-branched confluence of the Mekong River. Legend has it that a local woman, Old Lady Penh (Duan Penh), was living by the chaktomuk and one day a floating koki tree went past, which she hooked out. Inside the tree she found four Buddha statues and one of Wat Shrine_outside_Wat_PhnomVishnu. This was seen as a divine blessing for the area and she raised a hill and built a shrine (now known as Wat Phonm) atop it to house them. ‘Phonm’ is Khmer for ‘hill’ and the hill took on the name of its founder. So the capital was moved from Angkor to what was to become Phnom Penh.

Cambodia had many different countries try to take over, the last one was France. The French stayed in control for most of the first half of the 20th century. As the population grew (in 1939 there were 109,000) the city continued to expand and the wetlands to the west were drained to accommodate this.

Cambodia became independent of France in 1954 and was relatively peaceful and until 1970 when there was the Lon Not coup. This was the beginning of the war between the government and the communist Khmer Rouge. The city finally fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975 with the deaths of thousands of people. Between December 1978 to January 1979, the invading Vietnamese army managed to free the city and then, the country.

IMG_0127Phnom Penh was a shambles but slowly people returned; raising the population figures from 100,000 at the end of 1979 to 615,000 by 1990. As part of a UN brokered deal, national elections were held in 1993 and the country proudly became its own master as last.  The 21st century has seen expansion everywhere and the population rose to over 2,000,000.

We would love to go back again, there is so much to explore and we only managed a small part of it. The welcome is genuine, you won’t want to leave.

Cambodia ~ proud and gentle people

DSC01030The recent Cambodian election, of 28th July, has shown the huge rift that has grown in the country between the long serving and politically ambitious Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian people. Yesterday, Reuters posted this article; “Opposition vows mass protest over Cambodian election deadlock”.

Although Cambodia is a democracy, Hun Sen has ruled the country with an iron fist and has put himself in a very powerful position. Sadly, he is more of a dictator than a Prime Minister and has lost much support because of his actions in granting land to foreign companies to make use of; without any thought for the Cambodian people living there. They are being evicted and given nowhere to go. The youth of the country want a fairer country, not one that has a huge divide between the vast majority of the population and the rich of the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP).

IMG_0150This week is Indigenous People’s Week and the people want their country back. The land grab has both appalled and angered them, and has led to a resurgence of the opposition to the CPP.

We went to Cambodia earlier this year. It was a country where we found happiness and wonder. Where the people were generous with their time and their pride in their country. Where we would happily return.

This current situation is so completely different to what we experienced, the feelings must be running very high.  The ‘real’ election result will be announced on Thursday.  After all this country has suffered, we can only hope it will go in favour of the people.

Samoa and falling in love (number 2)

IMG_1295Samoa and Paradise in the same sentence is as natural as bread and butter! You really don’t need any rose tinted glasses – the beauty is there in all its glory.

Vailima - the home of Robert Louis Stevenson - now a museum.

Vailima – the home of Robert Louis Stevenson – now a museum.

It’s where Robert Louis Stevenson settled and made his home after saying, during an amazing long voyage of discovery; ”For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”

It’s where Rupert Brooke said, “Sheer beauty, so pure that it is difficult to breathe it in”.

It’s where we went and found peace, tranquillity, beauty and smiles.

It’s where you can soothe your soul and saturate your senses.

It’s the sacred centre of the Polynesian Islands.

It’s the treasured islands of Samoa.

It’s Paradise.

DSC01760DSC01759IMG_1297And why do I wax so lyrical, why is it Paradise? Because it is virtually unspoilt – you can tell it is Samoa by how the buildings are crafted by hand from natural, local materials (apart from a couple of white, modern government buildings looking totally out of place).

The artistry and the purpose of traditional Samoan houses, resorts, fales are what makes Samoa unique. It really is like the sense of being enveloped in a great big hug, you feel safe and cherished. The wondrous thing is that it has stayed true to its heritage, so far it hasn’t let big business come in and spoilt its beauty. There are so many beautiful islands that the corporates have invaded and taken over – and always to the detriment of the environment and its true roots.  For those who want to get close to the country, its natural wonder and the people and their culture, it remains one of the best places in the world to do this.

It is Paradise because of the beauty of the flowers and plants, the beauty of its natural landscapes and the beauty of its people – but all that’s for another post!

Peace and love.