As a continuation of my previous posts on Responsible Tourism – specifically on how it goes from theory to practice – I want to focus more on the personal stories of people who have engaged in it. From people who’ve taken gap year travels, to those for whom travel touched them and beckoned them to return and give back.
As these varied examples will demonstrate, regardless of the name , whether eco~, responsible~, philanthropic~, volunteer~, or humanitarian~, there is a distinctive type of travel that is more rewarding and meaningful. In short, life-changing.
One of the posters to protest deforestation, a mission of www.stillwildstillthreatened.org
Conservation protest camp in Tasmania
Clyde Macfarlane, 23, anthropology graduate/freelance writer, Chichester, UK.
I was on a year out in Australia, and after a few months in the red centre I decided to go to Tasmania to escape the heat, and to see big trees. The island is home to a vast forest of Eucalyptus regnans, the largest flowering plants in the world.
Within a few days of arriving I heard word of protest activity in the Upper Florentine Valley, a pristine corner of virgin forest under threat from various logging projects.
I decided to hitch there, and for the last part of the journey I rode with TK, a Canadian biologist who had been living at the Florentine camp for two years. He gave me a brief history of the area as we entered the forest. These Eucalyptus regnans, at 60m tall, may not be the biggest trees in the world – one California redwood is 98m, for example – but never, TK assured me, would I feel as dwarfed by nature as when among the giants of the Florentine Valley.
The protest has been going on since 2006, when Forestry Tasmania began extending the road into the forest. Protesters live in the trees so that they won’t be cut down, though there has been much confrontation and some arrests. “Don’t ever go in there,” TK said as we passed a lonely, redbrick pub. “If they think you look like one of us – a week or so at the camp should do it – they’ll kick the shit out of you.”
The local climate is incredibly wet, adding a ghostly white cover to the giant trees. Rain-soaked banners high up in the branches – “Toot for Tassy’s Forests”, “Still Wild, Still Threatened” – were visible from the roadside. But no amount of neck-craning can quantify the trees’ size.
For an eco-friendly backpacker, the Florentine camp provided a cheap and exciting alternative to a volunteer project. Bring food donations, good conversation and a useful pair of hands and the vast Tasmanian wilderness is yours to explore. Camp life was centred on communal meals, firewood runs, clean-ups and lookout reports. Each night, wet hair and cloth steamed by a campfire under a blue tarpaulin. Plates of food were passed around – curried baked beans topped with fresh parsley.
A camp veteran of six months told me how she was humbled by a spectacular light display from the aurora australis. Another veteran had a doctorate in zoology, and used the camp as a base for a statistical project on the Tasmanian devil population. I spent a couple of days on the west coast’s Bay of Fires – a wild, windswept clash of white-sand beaches, turquoise water, brooding skies and red-stained granite rocks.
As well as being a good place to become actively involved in forest conservation, the camp was where people shared travellers’ tips – a valuable resource that is often ignored in favour of a guidebook.
To learn more about the campaign and how you can help, go to www.stillwildstillthreatened.org
Inspiration: The Guardian