A Kind Travel Guide

I am about 7 weeks away from having my first child and have discovered another truly wonderful pregnancy symptom: third trimester insomnia. I often find myself lying in bed trying to catch the train back to the Land of Nod and sometimes I do, but more often than not I end up on the couch flanked by a Pug and an Allen. Before this mornings interruption I tried a faithful tact – visualising myself in the most tranquil setting I could imagine. Invariably this takes me back to Ubud – a jungle town located in the mountains of Bali, Indonesia. An hour past the hustle of the main tourist region of Kuta you can find a paradise that will forever be fodder for your late night meditations (even the unsuccessful ones).

This is the most relaxed I think I have ever been.

Bali often gets painted as an island of abandonment. A place where the trinkets are cheap, the drinks are flowing and ‘luxury’ is within reach of the common man. While holiday spending is somewhat a necessity (Bali’s primary industry is tourism, after all) the encouragement of ‘reckless’ consumption can be at a detriment to the local environment, people and animals. But fear not – there are plenty of ways to find relaxation and fun without harming the environment or becoming a culturally insensitive ‘Bali Bogan’. While my experience was specific to Bali the same principles can be applied on any travels, particularly in South East Asia.

Consider ‘Alternate’ Accommodation

There are plenty of accommodation options past the generic hotel chains where it is accepted that you can treat the staff like garbage if you wish. We visited a friend in the lobby of one such hotel and I couldn’t believe the way some young (i’m ashamed to say) Aussie girls were treating the staff – it was painful to watch. My hubby and I instead opted for Pondok Saraswati which comprised of 4 open-aired villas within a village compound. Overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful rice paddies, you are accepted here as part of the family and do not have ‘mignons’ at your beck and call – a holiday ‘feature’ I was determined to avoid. The villa was simple and free of all mod cons – just a bedroom, a mosquito net, some day beds and an jungle style shower. Bliss.

The open air ground floor – simple and divine.

How can something so simple be SO tasty. Fruit, fresh coconut and palm sugar.

One of the gorgeous staff members would come past every morning to offer and bring breakfast (the most amazing tropical fruit I have ever tasted) and beyond that you are on your own. You were always welcomed at the kitchen (where there was a bar fridge full of Bintang) and there was always someone to chat with. Instead of being pigeon holed into one monotonous task, the employees here (mostly extended family members) had a range of jobs from tending to the gardens, cleaning, cooking. They all described it as a far more full-fulling style of work.  Nyomen Rusni a hilarious, matter-of-fact woman, manages the resort and is more than happy to drive you in and around town for a flat rate. In the end we were sad to leave more due to the friendships than the stunning setting. I could not recommend more looking for this slightly ‘alternative’ form of accommodation instead of the cookie-cutter chain experience. Search for bed and breakfasts and retreats when deciding on your accommodation.

With the Pondok family (Nyomen is just next to me).

The view from the shower. DREAMY.

Don’t Be A Snob

As can be displayed in this repugnant – not to mention uneducated – article by The Age’s Carolyn Webb,  Australians can foster a certain attitude towards the Balinese. Ms Webb skillfully manages to display a complete lack of understanding of the concept of poverty while simultaneously conjuring up this caricature of a racist, self-important parrot. Talented journo that one. She complains about being ‘harassed’ by “frankly terrible street touts”. Yes, in Bali you will be approached by Street Sellers who want you to buy superfluous nicknack’s. Yes, you may get conned a couple of times and spend $10 on a massage instead of $5. If this upsets you, instead of following Ms Webb’s lead and being a condescending and offensive prick about it, try and remind yourself of the economic climate you are enjoying. Bali is a developing country that has been devastated by terrorist attacks, bad press due to foolish decisions (drug smugglers) not to mention our old friend the GFC. While a lot of Australians have had to tighten the proverbial belt the Balinese have had to more literally address their belt buckles – in fact the average Bali family survives on the equivalent of $100AUD a month.

On top of that, the industry that is carrying the country is also destroying it. The once agriculturally self-sufficient island is now crippled by its lifeblood; fields have been converted into hotels, water is diverted from crops to golf courses, streams are polluted with rubbish. If you want to learn more about how this rampant tourism is both killing and supporting Bali then watch the below short documentary Bali: They Paved Paradise which was featured on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent.

So instead of getting frustrated (don’t make me use the hashtag… oh stuff it … #firstworldproblems) try learning a local phrase like “Tidak, terimah kasih” which translates to “No thanks”. Say it with a smile and see how that goes. Chat with the people too. I got some wicked hints of local places to eat, attractions to visit and also managed to have a competitive game of ping pong just from sporting a grin.

Cruelty Free Animal Encounters

I am sure I would be considered a spoil-sport but regardless… I am often horrified by the Facebook holiday snaps I see on Facebook where people are posing with baby orang-utans and suspiciously sedate looking tigers. A baby orangutan is no different to a baby human – it should never be seperated from its mother. A tiger is very different and being a ferocious carnivore should want to eat you. Yet for our own pleasure and cheap entertainment we are altering natural behaviours of wild and beautiful animals. Recently a disturbing new tourist trend emerged in Thailand called ‘Tiger Teasing’. Tigers are allegedly drugged and then teased by tourist in shallow pools with bags of food (see the video here). What could go wrong? This trend is verging towards the upper eschalon of animal exploitation in the name of tourism but allegations of druggings have long been present even at the ‘friendlier’ parks and zoos. Tigers, orangutans and elephants are routinely used as props and (due to the cycle of poverty that is enslaving them) are treated very badly. It is not neccesarily the owners/trainers fault (though depraved acts have been documented) but instead those that are demanding the service… tourists.

Image by Emily Ehlers

The point is – if you truly love animals and are looking for an up close and personal experience – then choose an activity that helps them rather than harms them. Elephant trekking seems to be a favorite pastime. But these elephants are routinely beaten with bullhooks or electric prods. And if you want to learn how baby elephants are trained just google ‘Phajaan’ or ‘The Crush’  – trekking may not seem so attractive then. Instead of this why not visit an elephant sanctuary where you can bathe with the elephants, feed them and clean them without the cruelty linked to the trek? For example The Surin Project is an amazing and holistic organisation. Instead of confiscating the elephants from mahouts and consequently driving up demand for the illegal trade of elephant smuggling, Surin provides a sanctuary for the elephant AND the trainer and their family. They provide a synergy of animal welfare and employment (growing food for the elephants, manning the sancutary). These opportunities are all around for all types of animals – you just have to look for it! Be informed, make the kind choice.

A baby elephant learns about Phajaan.

If you are interested in a holiday centred entirely around volunteerism and helping abused/neglected animals then you may want to check out my past blog about my short visit to BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association). She that here.

Eat Local Cuisine

Eat the cuisine of the region. Make a resolution that you are going to experience the place in it’s entirity. I am always flabbergasted when people go to these places and then visit Western restaurants… or worse… fast food chains!!!  In fact my favorite meal was the simplest. You will never try tropical fruit like this.

My own thought…. if you have ever wanted to try vegetarianism/veganism then South East Asia is the place to do it. In Bali I ate some of the best vegetarian food I have ever had in my life. And hey, if you make a holiday resolution there you may find it sticks when you get back? Here’s me with my fave meal in Bali (Gado Gado)…

 

Eco Activities

While you are away choose to partake in kind activites. Use the rule of thumb – it should not exploit the people, the animals or the environment. While you are dreaming up your perfect holiday and researching prices… go that step further and look into the companies as well. Make sure that workers are being paid fairly, animals are not used as gimmicks and try to ascertain the philosophy behind the company. Travel blogs can be SO helpful this way as well as travel forums. I was going to visit a ‘reputable’ Turtle Sanctuary in Nusa Dua but was warned off it by a friend. I was shocked – it has ‘sanctuary’ in the title… surely it was legit? I then let me fingers wander to google and found this article which confirmed my fears – I almost got greenwashed! A near miss for something that sounded so genuine. Research, research, research.

There is plenty available in the way of ‘Eco’ touring!

An example of a ‘nice’ activity we found was the Bali Eco Cycling Tour. Not only was this tour one of my favourite experiences of our Bali trip, but of all my holidays. For a very reasonable price we were treated to an educational tour down the main volcano in Bali (Mt Batur) and this included 2 of the most delicious meals I have ever had the pleasure of noshing as well as hotel transfer. It was truly amazing. I will end this blog article with some happy snaps…

We started the day by having breakfast in a cloud… literally! Looking out the windows of this restaurant was opaque white. Then the clouds cleared and revealed a massive volcano and the Crater Lake which provides the water to the entire island of Bali!!!

Our gorgeous tour guide, 16 year old Ring (“like jewellry ‘cept i’m worth more!). This kid was a comedian and the thing I loved was that his dream was to become an English teacher… rather than a carpenter like his father. Therefore this job as a tour guide was helping him perfect his English – he had a firm grasp of it including some dirty jokes. Here he was trying to convince one of us the eat the ‘sweetest chilli in Bali’ which was actually the hottest.  

Amazing rice paddies.

With my love.

We were shown through a family compound where we met these delightful scallywags!!! Another note… take gifts for the children. I had children begging me for biro’s and notepads. Next time I go I will be taking a massive stash of books, pads, pencils etc.

ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM. Just to show how nice the tour guide was (and what a Hobbit I am) I forgot to wear shoes. Ring gave me his pair of thongs!!!

I faced a fear and had this ‘friendly’ Orb Weaver on me. I was amazed at how heavy it was! It’s legs… or feet?… were so sharp. Like little pins.

The best meal I have ever had in my life. EVER. I preordered the vegan option and got this wondrous plate was awaiting me. Gado Gado, Goreng, Green Salad (hot hot mix of coconut, chilli and herbs), cabbage rolls and Sticky Tempeh (which a fellow tourer was convinced was pork!). Amazing.

And dessert? Well. Bali really reminded me that simplicity is key…

So. Those are my tips and a little bit of my own experiences. What about you? What are ‘kind’ travel tips that you use? Or do you disagree with any of mine? Have you been anywhere particularly wonderful? Please share in the comments!

Guest Post: Creating a Cycling Culture in the Workplace

When it comes to inspiring eco-change the group that I hear the most gripes about would have to be work colleagues. And sometimes parents. (Not you mum and dad – you guys are awesome!). Today’s culture is so politically correct that we have to be ‘sensitive’ at all times in the workplace – even if that means turning a blind-eye to laziness, ignorance and narrow-mindedness.

Luckily Olive On Blondes newest contributor has found the magic key of changing behavior in the office – offering an incentive! Meet Alyce Sala Tenna– an environmental scientist who is as zany as she is smart! To learn more about this fuss free lady you can meet her properly here. But for now, here are her thoughts on how you can change a wasteful office culture. 

Why should you implement a cycle scheme in your office?  

Throughout Australia thousands of cyclists enjoy the benefits of riding to work. These pedal pushers reap the positive results of saving money, higher fitness levels whilst also contributing to a sustainable mode of travel. However, there are still many, many more Australians yet to be converted. In 2006, transport consumed 25% of Australia’s total energy requirements!

This is where a cycle to work scheme can be initiated in the workforce to encourage the transition from fossil-fuel traveller to carbohydrate-consumer traveller. A cycle to work scheme does not have to be complicated, nor involve enormous amounts of paper pushing for the good office Samaritan who volunteers to organise and maintain the scheme. Incentive ideas can be as simple as providing workshops for staff about bike maintenance, subsidy assistance, financial bonuses, or, simply providing bicycles to employees for short distance travel. For example, Coles offers a $200 gift card each month to people who ride more than three days per week.

Em's Bike - Penelope Cruise!

How do you go about it?

So how would one embark on the implementation of a cycle friendly work scheme? Like any project, a proposal must be put forward in order to for approval and advance to the next stage. And what looks attractive to senior management in a proposal? Financial savings, of course!

Below are four main financial incentives an employer may find attractive:

  1. Reduced car park overheads and more economic use of land (for example, a cost of a single space in an A-Grade CBD office building ranges from $8, 000 – $10, 000 per annum, whereas 10 bikes can fit into this space)
  2. Reduced car fleet, taxi and petrol card costs
  3. Healthier and happier staff from the outcome of cycling are more productive at work and less likely to take sick days
  4. Increased connectivity in the workplace through strong cycle-friendly culture

Need a template? Step right up…

I created a template document of a cycle to work scheme for my previous employer. Although it never got off the ground before I left to take on my graduate job as a professional greenie, it is a document that I feel could help to make positive changes to both the environment, and an individual’s health. Senior management of corporations must recognise the importance of committing to environmental responsibility if they wish to continue harnessing the surrounding environment’s precious resources to recruit their wealth.

If you want to see an initiative like this in your office (or even your home) but don’t have time to collect the information – then you have come to the right place. If you would like a copy of this well-researched document to give to your manager or present at your next staff meeting then email oliveonblonde@gmail.com and we will get a copy to you within 24hours.

Good luck and happy cycling! 

Want more info?

For further information, ideas and approaches please refer to The Cycle-Friendly Workplace: You Step by Step Guide (2007), a concise and informative report prepared by the Australian Department of Environment and Water Resources and the Australian Department of Health and Ageing.

Do You Know What Your Carbon Footprint Is?

If everyone on the planet lived your lifestyle how many worlds would we need?

So many companies are using “green” as an advertising strategy that really useful eco tools and terms are being drowned in the green-wash. One such tool (and term) is your Carbon Footprint. We hear about it daily, but how many people really know their carbon shoe size or even what a carbon footprint is?

DID YOU KNOW…? Australians currently emit more than 550 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. About a fifth of this is generated through every day activities. – 1degree

What is a carbon footprint?

Individuals, countries, products and industries all have carbon footprints. In fact, every single thing that involves human activity has a carbon footprint. Human activities demand natural resources and produce waste and the measure of these impacts on the environment is known as an ‘ecological footprint’ (or carbon footprint). The impact that these activities have on the environment has, in recent times anyway, been measured in terms of climate change.

Here is a really clever and simple way of looking at how little things can have large and environmentally damaging footprints…

Thanks to WWF for providing that amazing little video – doesn’t it put things in perspective?

Something to also consider is that we also have two different types of footprints;

 Primary Footprint:

A measure of our direct emissions of CO2 from burning of fossil fuels such as domestic energy consumption (our household gas, electricity etc) and transport (car, plane, whatever you use to get from A to B)

Secondary Footprint:

A measure of our indirect emissions of CO2 looking at the entire lifecycle of products from their manufacture to their breakdown. It is a simple equation… the more new things buy, the more emissions you cause.

Here is a fantastic graph thanks to Carbon Footprint which breaks down all our basic needs and modern luxuries and codes whether they Primary (Green) or Secondary (Yellow).

Green = Primary Footprint ; Yellow = Secondary Footprint

So what is your Carbon Footprint?

So are you ready to know? There are a million calculators around and they go from being extremely comprehensive (wanting to know how many kWh you use, litres of heating oil) to just getting an approximate summary of your habits and uses (travel distances, modes of transport, dietary choices). Below I have put a link to my favourite calculators – one basic, one thorough, a kiddies calculator and my fave of all.

The end result (represent by worlds) will show you how many planet earths we would need if everyone (all 7 billion of us) lived the lifestyle that you live. A lot of them also give you a detailed synopsis of what you use and where your problem areas are (i.e. travel, home energy, food) like the picture below;

An example of a typical synopsis after calculating your carbon footprint (from WWF ‘Fun Calculator’ link below)

To use these calculators you need to have some idea on the systems that your home uses and general energy consumption – to a varying degree depending on which calculator you use. It takes about ten minutes and will also ask about your diet, household and travel. If you don’t feel confident doing it by yourself then sit down with your partner or family to do it – it also has the added benefit of starting a conversation about sustainability. It is very interesting and really shows the areas that you need to make changes to (and areas that you can pat yourself on the back!).

Tip from Blonde Olive – Having your bills at the ready can make this easier but you can guesstimate without as well.

Basic Calculator

Advanced Calculator

My Favourite Calculator (This calculator is fantastic as it gives you options on whether your answer is detailed or vague. You also get a cute little avatar that walks around a little street which eventually – through your answers – builds itself into a virtual representation of your eco-habits – check out the picture below)

My little olive avatar roaming around Emville!

And there is even a calculator for school kiddies! (It is American so you may need to pick a random school but it is recommended on a load of Australian sites, including state governments)

Reduce your footprint…

If you are not happy with how many earths you are eating up with your habits then commit to making a difference. When I first calculated mine a couple of years ago it came as quite a shock. I was eco conscious but it was very clear that even with my good habits the world was going to fly way beyond its carrying capacity. The great thing was I could see exactly where I was going wrong and change it. For example, my husband and I were not using enough public transport and we lived too far away from work, uni, friends and family. Solution? We moved closer and we carpool to work everyday (halfway at least and then I walk the rest). As well as some other lifestyle tweaks we have more than halved our households footprint!

If you are stuck for ideas check out my list of Eco Resolutions or my post about how to save water around the house. You could even reduce the impact that your diet has on the planet. Carbon Footprint also made a really helpful list of quick tips.

Personally my favorite way to cut emissions is one of the most logical too – cut out pointless single-use items such as plastic bags, bottles or cutlery. Actually, get rid of plastics altogether. If you want my 5 Steps to Cut Out Plastic then click here.

My favourite of their suggested solutions are listed below;

Tackle your Primary Footprint

  • Turn it off when not in use (lights, television, DVD player, Hi Fi, computer etc) Click here to find out which electrical items in your household are contribute the most to your Carbon Footprint
  • Turn down the water heating setting (just 2 degrees will make a significant saving)
  • Fill your dish washer and washing machine with a full load – this will save you water, electricity, and washing powder
  • Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need
  • Do your weekly shopping in a single trip
  • Hang out the washing to dry rather than tumble drying it
  • Use energy saving light bulbs
  • Use the bus or a train rather than your car
  • For short journeys either walk or cycle
  • Try to reduce the number of flights you take

Reduce your Secondary Footprint

(this is the easiest one because it all depends on your buying habits, your choices!)

  • Don’t buy bottled water refill from the tap. If you are concerned about the quality – buy a water filter. Why not give Plastic Free July a go (see the information here).
  • Buy local fruit and vegetables, or even try growing your own
  • Buy foods that are in season locally
  • Reduce your consumption of meat
  • Buy organic produce
  • Don’t buy over packaged products
  • Recycle as much as possible
  • For the full list please click here.

Good luck and let me know how you go!