The end?

We had no idea.

When we said out in 2009 to bike around the world we had no idea what was waiting for us.

There are 790 mountain gorillas left in the world – we were mock-charged by one of them along the side of the road in Uganda. There are thousands of people in Mozambique who live and farm along land that is at sea level and already prone to flooding – we slept in their villages and shared cashew beer with them along the road. In Namibia and Tanzania, people dig holes in dried river beds to get drinking water – we followed them down to the sand and carefully spooned water into our bottles on countless occasions.

We set out to bike around the world, visiting permaculture projects along the way.  We knew that the environment was important, but we figured we had time, that things weren’t so bad. Sixteen months and 12,000 kilometers later, we had met so many new people and seen so many new things that biking around the world didn’t seem to make sense anymore.  Deforestation wasn’t something for the future – the gorillas are disappearing right now.  Climate change isn’t just an abstract concept – it could flood the coast of Mozambique tomorrow.  Drought and water scarcity are not just passing struggles – they are daily life for millions of people.

It was seeing all of this that inspired us to trade the bikes for a video camera.  Africa convinced us that it was urgent that we all take action for the environment, and so we thought we would spend the trip in Latin America finding people working on solutions, sharing their ideas and experiences and showing how each of us could take action in their own community to make the world a better place.  The Rio+20 Earth Summit became our destination, the biggest international conference in the history of the UN, directed totally towards sustainable development.

Finding people working on solutions turned out to be the easy part.  Whether it is cycling activists or transition towns or organic farmers, there is no town, city, or country that doesn’t have masses of people working on environmental solutions.  The harder part for us became actually figuring out how to make movies, how to manage our website, and how to balance all the work our project suddenly entailed with all the hours on the bus we needed to get to Rio – while still enjoying the unbelievable landscapes and cultures we were passing through.

In Latin America, as in Africa, the people we met were the most powerful part of the trip.  Whether it was spending Christmas in an indigenous community in the Amazon, dancing and sharing liters of yucca beer, or pushing a tractor along a dirt track in the rain in Chiapas in the middle of the night, or  waking up at 4:00 am in a farmhouse along the Ecuadorian coast to accompany the farmers as they prepared for the weekly market, seeing the incredible resilience, decency, and determination of people all over the world trying to solve our environmental problems inspired us again and again.  If we could all be half as dedicated as the farmers reforesting in Chiapas, or the indigenous communities protecting the Amazon in Ecuador, or the coastal farmers sacrificing sleep to bring organic produce to poor communities in the city, then the world could change over night, we could have a better world tomorrow.

With all this inspiration, we arrived in Rio for the Rio+20 Earth Summit.  Heads of state from 130 nations came together to discuss sustainable development and the environment. The opportunity was tremendous – oceans, fossil fuel subsidies, new sustainable development goals, the Rio+20 summit was supposed to be the time for nations to pledge to measurable targets on all these issues, even committing money to back them up.

Of course, none of that happened.  Negotiations began with a controversial text drawn up over the past two years in collaboration with civil society.  When it became clear that member states would never agree to such a document, the Brazilian delegation simply tossed it in the trash and wrote a new one over night.  The new text, the final result of the conference, was barely worth the paper it was printed on – “The longest suicide note in history,” the executive director of Greenpeace called it.  But it let the UN set up a photo op with all the governments declaring success, and that was what mattered most in the end.  A tremendous opportunity to build a better world passed us by in Rio.  What could have been a huge step forward became instead a complete non-event, a wasted chance to secure a liveable future.

But make no mistake, the problems we face are worse every day – just because our governments have decided not to act doesn’t mean our problems have gone away:

  • In January, methane fountains were found in the Russian Arctic, suggesting that methane (a greenhouse gas 60 times worse than CO2) on the bottom of the sea floor may be starting to come to the surface, a potentially catastrophic development for the planet.

All of these events correspond exactly with what climate scientists predict for a warming world.  All of them are just the beginning.  When we set out, we thought environmental problems were avoidable, we thought we could take action and things would be okay.  Almost a thousand days later now, we know that’s not the case. The world is warming now, it is too late to stop it.  Our governments will not take action and cannot be expected to.  What remains to be seen is just how much it will warm, how bad things are going to get.  And for that, we need to take action.

There is good news.  The good news is that solutions already exist and that they are beautifully simple. We don’t need our governments; we will be better off without them.  Corporations will stop polluting when we stop giving them our money to do so.  To plant trees, to build communities, to save seeds, we don’t need anything other than our own energy and determination.

And things can change fast.  When we left on our trip, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt were all ruled by ruthless dictators and the word “#occupy” didn’t exist.  People are acting, people are stepping up, there is a rising chorus for change, there is a movement out there, growing every day, fighting to make the world a better place.

So what lies ahead for the Permacyclists?  Well for the next few months, we’ll be applying for a green card for Annabelle and finishing up our last videos and photos from the trip, including some projects we’re filming in Belgium and in the US.  So yes, there are more projects to come and we will be continuing the website, Facebook, and twitter pages, so do keep checking in.

In January, we will start trying to put into practice all the advice we’ve picked up along the road – to take our small part in that chorus for change.  We are planning on moving to Woodstock New York where a friend has some land and where we hope to grow our own food, to join the transition movement, to save seeds, to plant trees, and all the rest that you’ve seen in our videos along the way (yes, even to break a few laws if we have to). We’ll keep the video cameras rolling, and we’ll have more movies about our experiences and about other cool local initiatives.

As a final thought on the experience we’ve just completed: if you had told us when we set out on our bikes in the Brussels rain almost 3 years ago that we would spend one of our last days in Rio talking to Bill McKibben (our hero!) and filming the walk-out of 100+ members of civil society from the largest conference in UN history, we never would have believed it.

It has been an unbelievable trip.

But now the work starts.

Now the real journey begins.

Posted in Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Zambia | 9 Comments

Argentina and Civil Disobedience

Hello from Rio!

At long last we’ve made it to the end of the road!  It’s been over 930 days on the road, through 31 countries, and over 730 hours by bus since New York City, but we’ve made it to the last stop: Rio de Janeiro and the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

We are obviously excited to be here (and you can see our smiling faces after arriving in the photo on the site here), and with Rio+20 finally getting underway there is a lot going on now!  We’ll be updating our facebook page more or less daily with photos from the conference over the next few weeks, so you can check there if you want to know how things are going (facebook.com/permacyclists).

In the mean time, we have some new updates on the site as well!  The first is our latest video, about the illegal farmers market of Guayaquil Ecuador.  We know that the idea of an illegal farmers market might sound ridiculous to some of us, but in Guayaquil the mayor has prohibited farmers from selling their produce directly to consumers within city limits.  Not that they let this stop them, of course! Check out the video here:

permacyclists.com/lang/en/projets-projects-2/fecaol/

And we also have our latest photo update – not from Brazil yet, we’re still catching up.  These are our shots from 2 months in Argentina.  A beautiful country, far too big to visit in just 2 months – we’ll have to come back someday!  Actually, we’re sure we will, Anna will need to visit with Mafalda again sometime soon…

www.permacyclists.com/lang/en/photos-photos/argentina/

Otherwise, thank you again for all your support and encouragement – we always love getting comments and messages.  It has been a long ride down to RIo, and we have really enjoyed sharing it with you all along the way.

Thanks!

-Dave and Anna

Posted in Argentina, Ecuador | 2 Comments

Latest News

Hello Friends,

At long last our latest video is online!  This one is from Ecuador, 
covering the work of the Red de Guardianes de Semillas (The Network of 
Seed Savers), started by 4 friends in a cafe in Quito and today 
stretching from southern Colombia to northern Peru.  Their work is 
truly inspiring and something we can all contribute to in our daily 
lives – we invite you to check out the video and learn more about 
their project here:

permacyclists.com/projets-projects-2/rgs/

There also has been a bit more of Permacyclists in the media lately 
that we’d love to share.  If you speak French, you can listen to 
Anna’s brilliant (as far as her husband is concerned) interview on the 
Belgian radio program “Les Belges du Bout du Monde” here:

rtbf.be/radio/player/lapremiere/podcasts?c=LP-BBDM&e=1009

And if you speak German (warum nicht?), we were featured in the German 
environmental magazine “Eve” this month, and you can see that online 
here:

eve-magazin.de/online-magazin/

And the biggest news of course is that we’ve made it to Brazil!  The 
last country of 2.5 years on the road, with just 6 weeks left before 
the Rio+20 summit.  We are excited to be here and to be discovering 
this new part of Latin America – though feeling the end coming soon is 
a little daunting too.

We hope you all are well, as always we greatly appreciate all your 
support and encouragement.

All the best,

Dave and Anna

rtbf.be/radio/player/lapremiere/podcasts?c=LP-BBDM&e=1009

Posted in Ecuador | 2 Comments

Chile

Hello from Bariloche!

It is a beautiful autumn day here in Patagonia, and we’re sitting inside at our computers…. But it’s okay because we’re very excited to share with you all our latest video and photos.

The video is the story of 350.org – a group of college kids from Middlebury VT who decided to start a campus group to discuss sustainability issues… and then four years later were coordinating a global movement.  If there is a greater testament to the power of a small group of commited individuals, we don’t know what it is.

Check out the video here:

http://www.permacyclists.com/lang/en/projets-projects-2/350-2/

And while you’re at it, you can see our photos from a brief sojourn in Torres del Paine Chile:

http://www.permacyclists.com/lang/en/photos-photos/chile/

Hope you enjoy it all, and as always thanks for your comments, suggestions, helpful hints, anything that comes to mind.

If you need us, we’ll be off in the mountains the next few days.

Ciao,

Dave and Anna

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Bolivia

Hello from Chile!

We’ve reached the southernmost point of our trip, and possibly of our lives – Puerto Natales Chile. You can’t go much farther south than here without swimming.

Our latest photos are up on the site – the results of 3 short weeks in the magnificent country of Bolivia, a country that merits much more time and care than we had unfortunately.

There is also another project up on the site. An article this time, about the folks at Utopia, an innovative approach to Community Supported Agriculture that we visited back in Ecuador.

For our part, we’re heading off into the mountains tomorrow to spend a week hiking and enjoying the incredible surroundings of this part of the world. Hopefully next week we’ll be in touch with a new video, this time a profile of the amazing folks to founded the international movement 350.org.

More of that to come though. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the photos!

Cheers,

Dave and Anna

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Peru

Hello From Bolivia!

It’s been a long time without news from us, we know. We’ve had some visits the last few months, which does make the time fly. And then with the rainy season, getting from point A to B has become a seemingly endless task! But our next video is ready, we’re just waiting for better internet so we can get it uploaded.

In the meantime, we have a new set of photos online, fresh from Peru – easily one of the most beautiful countries we have visited in our travels:

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Ecuador

Hey Folks,

Well, after 2 months, we’ve finally moved on from Ecuador. I don’t think we expected much from this little country when we arrived, but we got so much out of our time there that we can’t even begin to talk about it. Once again, just photos this time – covering the costs, the mountains, the jungles, a little glimpse at everything that made it such a wonderful place to visit.

We’re in Peru now, taking a little time with family and working on our next videos. We’ll have more updates soon enough. Thanks for your comments and support, we always appreciate it – and happy new year!

Posted in Ecuador | 1 Comment

Colombia

We spent five weeks in Colombia and it wasn’t nearly enough.  After 2 years on the road, to find ourselves in one of the friendliest countries either of us had ever visited was a real treat.  We have a selection of our photos from our time there below, we hope you enjoy – and we hope we get to go back to Colombia someday soon.

For the rest, there might be some of you wondering where the lengthy rants of our travel updates have gone (anything is possible, right?).  We’ve decided to let them slide though, we’ll be just doing photo updates from now on.  Partially this is a question of time – we prefer to focus our efforts on visiting projects and making videos.  Partially though, let’s face it, bumping around in a bus isn’t as exciting as biking – we miss our Da Silvas!

In the mean time, we hope you enjoy the projects and the photos and of course, any comments, questions, or advice are always welcome.  Happy Holidays!

Posted in Colombia | 3 Comments

Central America

We’re updating the site from Bogota where will be spending the next few weeks getting some work done and eating arepas.

To cover the last two months, here’s a selection of photos of our time in Central America.

Hope you enjoy it and as always, thanks for checking in!

Posted in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama | 1 Comment

Mexico

Photos available here.

For even more photos and news, check out our facebook page!

Let’s start with the essential: Tacos.

They are infinitely better in Mexico than in the US. The corn tortillas are tiny and bite-sized and you can eat a dozen before you realize you’ve made yourself sick. And why do we waste our time with those hard taco shells up north? Why are our tortillas not nearly so good? We have a lot to learn.

Burritos though, there the Americans have the edge. We’ve perfected that up north in our own way. Though an American burrito with a good Mexican corn tortilla… could be magic.

Quesadillas are pretty much the same everywhere – there is only so much you can do with a tortilla and melted cheese it seems.

Everything else – tamales, taquitos, tostadas, empanadas, etc. – is better in Mexico; you could eat every meal here for a year and never repeat the same dish twice. Though that does not forgive other, more worrisome culinary trends, like mayonnaise on corn, or chili sauce on fresh fruit – and definitely not chili in beer. I don’t know who started that one, but it’s just not okay…

Since our last update, we left Puerto Vallarta for Guadalajara, and then continued on to Mexico City, Oaxaca, and San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. It’s hard to imagine that the scorched desert we crossed in early June is the same country as the chilly mountain forests we’ve been traveling through the past few weeks. Not to mention that in the middle of the two was one of the biggest cities in the world…

Some things are the same throughout this country though – the aforementioned delicious tacos, for one.

For another, Mexicans everywhere seem to mistrust their government and have nothing but contempt for its “War on Drugs.” Our first night in Hermosillo, our couch surfing host brought us to a bar where there was a poster on the wall proclaiming, “This war isn’t against the drug cartels, it’s against the poor. It’s no coincidence that in Juarez only the poor are killed. Get the soldiers off the streets, no peace wit hout justice.”

In Guadalajara friends joked about how every little problem in the country is now blamed on the drug syndicates. Trash pickup is late? It’s the Narcos’ fault…

In Mexico City, a veritable tent city was occupying the central square, demanding the resignation of the president and the end to the war on drugs.

In Chiapas, we heard again and again of government paramilitaries murdering local people and spreading dissent in indigenous areas, officially as part of the war on drugs, but in the minds of locals just another way to continue its fight against the poor and the indigenous. In the latest round, the government has apparently blamed the indigenous people for climate change. Yes, you might have thought that Mexico’s contribution to global warming had something to do with having one of the largest and most polluted cities in the world in its center, or all that industry in the maquilladores along the US border, but no: it’s the villagers in the forest who have lived on the same land for millenia without trouble that are destroying the planet…

As foreigners though, especially foreigners who just came from 16 months in Africa, there was a somewhat blasphemous thought that kept coming to mind – actually, the Mexican government looked pretty good to us…

We really came to appreciate this in Guadalajara, when for the first (and not the last) time a Mexican told us that it was easier for us to travel since we came from a first world country where everyone was rich – Mexico on the other hand was a third world country and so people had to work to get by. Good news for any Americans reading this – have you heard? You don’t have to work anymore to get by!

We’d heard the same line in Africa and we never quite knew what to think. Sure our lives are easier than the average African, and we have more opportunities to save money and to travel than they do. But the US and Europe are not the paradises that they seemed to think they were.

And then coming in Mexico, it just seemed so out of touch with what we saw day by day around us – blackberries, iPhones, functioning bus terminals, clean city parks, exceptional museums…

You’re not a third world country if your bus stations are nicer than New York City’s airports. Or if your cultural history is preserved in your own country rather than in a European capital. You’re not a third world country if your trash is picked up regularly, and if your public parks are well maintained… I could go on and on.

Compared to Africa at least, life in Mexico is quite good; the government clearly delivers a lot of services for its people. Which is not to diminish the downsides – there is serious poverty as well, and a government which can legitimately be accused of killing its own citizens to chase them off their land isn’t a good one by any measure. But sometimes we forget that there is poverty in the United States too, and that we have our own corruption, every bit as insidious and destructive. And Europe is no different – cycling in eastern Europe in 2008, Anna and I passed through Roma villages that were at least as poor as anything we saw in Mexico, if not worse.

And while the US government does not have paramilitaries wandering the jungle killing its own civilians, it’s far from the “land of the free” that the rest of the world sometimes thinks it is – two years in prison for preventing the government “of the people, by the people and for the people” from illegally auctioning off the people’s land to mining companies is hardly a perfect democracy.

And Europe isn’t much better – as I write this, the president of France is still pushing forward mass expulsions of Roma, often the poorest people in Europe, in blatant disregard for even the loosest concept of Human Rights.

If anything, the mass protests we have seen in Mexico, with villagers bearing socialist banners camped out in the central plaza in Mexico City or San Cristobal de las Casas, seem far more democratic and open than anything we have seen back home. Just remember the NYPD infiltrating protestors at the Republican National Convention and then starting fights to create a pretext for arrests… And where are the street marches in France in defense of the Roma? Where are the Americans camping out in front of the White House for Tim DeChristopher?

One of our favorite moments in Mexico was going to see Lucha Libre in Mexico city. It’s like vaudeville meets halloween meets Terminator 2. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did – the wrestlers are real athletes and the crowd gets so into it that you can’t help but be dragged along, rooting for the good guys (los tecnicos) to come from behind and beat the bad guys (los rudos).

It was only later that I decided that I think the lucha is the key to Mexican culture. All that anger at the government, all that cynicism, it’s just that people here don’t take any shit. They have in the past, they’ve been through dictatorships and wars and immigration and corruption, and they’ve clearly decided that enough is enough. It’s time for the tecnicos to rally and toss the rudos out of the ring and then to climb up on the ropes and throw themselves spread-eagled on top of the reeling enemy, pulling his legs up and pinning him down and taking his mask off!

And while I don’t think the real world is that simple – human nature is far too complex for there to be good guys and bad guys, and hearing Marx and Lenin quoted in political discussions without a hint of irony as has happened over the past few months is always a little disquieting – the fight is admirable. In the US and Europe, we have become so accepting and blasé about so many things, from injustice to inequality to environmental destruction, that shouldn’t be accepted ever, anywhere.

We could learn a lot from la lucha.

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