By CHEN REYES-MENCIAS
I love walking barefooted on the sand. I think most people do, specially if the sand is super soft and white. It is amazing how leaving footprints on the sand can actually be a learning experience. In case you have not heard about the concept of “ecological footprint”, then this article is for you. This is my way of paving the way for more responsible travels for the coming year.
Chen. The author exploring one of the most remote and pristine places in Luzon.
The first time I set foot on an uninhabited beach over at the Pacific side of Luzon I was awed by the sheer rawness of nature. I ran along the shore like a child until I can run no more. Then I walked and skipped and walked again. I looked behind me and saw my prints, winding, looping and making interesting patterns that seem to be out of place in such a pristine and untouched environment.
Right where I was standing, my feet were deeply imbedded in the sand up to my ankles. Just like that, as if the wind brought forth some message, I thought of my a metaphorical footprint.
On a daily basis, upon waking up and until I close my eyes at night, I use resources of the planet in the form of water, energy, food and materials. Consequently I produce waste, both biodegradable and non-biodegradable. This process creates an impact on the planet. Now, think of how much is the impact if you multiply that with the number of people of earth!
Looking at my feet buried in the sand, I think about the depth of my footprint. The depth represents my lifestyle. The softness of the sand represents the fragility of the environment that I trod.
Man’s impact on the environment is not merely a function of population or land area available. It is very much also a function of lifestyle. Our decisions, behaviour and choices on a daily basis dictate how deep we trod on planet earth.
Tourists are a threat to the integrity of destinations they visit. This is simply because a big slice of the tourism market is still comprised of mass tourists. If you travel and love to etch your name on a tree, a rock or a wall, or go home with a wild orchid or a live starfish, and you also leave behind your trash, including styrofoam containers, bottles and plastics, then you belong to the great majority. Sorry to tell you this but you are not part of the solution, for now.
Don’t despair. If you read on you may actually go through what Oprah calls a “light bulb moment” and learn a few tips on how you can lighten your footprint the next time you travel. Here goes…
The first time I drank coffee from a styrofoam cup I actually marvelled at the invention. How convenient! Until I started seeing them on the beach, floating in the river, stuck in the roots of mangroves and mind you, choking a coral. They are such an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful landscape and seascape. Same goes with plastic bags. Going back to using washable containers or packing food in banana leaves will go a long way towards lessening the amount of trash that we can potentially leave behind. We can learn a lot from the people of Batanes who still pack their food in large kabaya leaves and secure them with reeds.
Do away with plastics, disposable spoons, forks, cups, plates and packaging materials. Just imagine one hundred people on a field trip using all these! Horrible!
Soap is a source of chemicals that can cause certain changes in the water. If you shift to biodegradable soap and shampoo, you can contribute to the decrease in the nutrient inputs that can cause plankton blooms and contamination of water table. Some aquatic life are sensitive to changes in their habitat and are not as resilient as other creatures.
Garbage in, Garbage out.
It is your responsibility to bring back with you whatever non-biodegradable trash that you bring in. Biodegradable trash should be buried at the very least to prevent flies from getting attracted to them. They should not be merely thrown away because they can also be an eye sore. Although these practices are part of the protocols of some parks and protected areas, not all places require you to do them. Taking back your garbage with you is an excellent habit to develop.
Immortalize yourself the proper way.
I do not know why people love to immortalize themselves by writing on caves, trees, buildings, rocks, churches and even on corals. One thing I noticed is that people love to do what others have done before them. Hence, one graffiti will definitely lead to more.
The oldest bell in the far east is the pride of a municipality in Cagayan. The bell however has been marred by someone’s name. Some people simply do not have respect for history and heritage. A newly restored centuries-old church in Nueva Vizcaya exhibits deeply etched names on the age-old bricks. If you wish to immortalize yourself, write a book, or do something good for humanity. But never write your name anywhere, except perhaps in your checkbook to make a donation for a cause.
Choose the right souvenir.
When I discovered that endangered species of shells sporting the name of Palaui Island were being sold as souvenirs, I got infuriated. Palaui Island is a declared protected landscape and seascape and selling trumpet shells, helmet shells, and giant clams, is not exactly consistent with the island’s intention to preserve it’s environment.
HELMET. The endangered species of helmet shells are being sold as souvenirs, contradicting the conservation efforts of Palaui Island Protected Landscape and Seascape in Sta. Ana, Cagayan. Photo courtesy of Chen Reyes-Mencias
It may be true that some people are simply ignorant of the law and lack of awareness and poverty are often blamed for the continued illegal sale of endangered plants and animals. But I also believe that as long as people are buying, people will continue to collect and sell them. There is an emerging culture among tourists that promotes conscientious purchasing, specially of souvenir items. Green marketing means that the money exchanged for a product is not solely paid for its production, but also goes to livelihood opportunities for communities, conservation initiatives, education and awareness building, and other socially relevant projects.
Tourists are encouraged to support small enterprises that are into green initiatives. The use of organic or pesticide-free materials, recyclable items, agricultural wastes and other abundant indigenous materials is part of this initiative. Next time you pick a possible souvenir for your loved ones, find out who made it, what is it made of and who will benefit from the purchase. Remember however, that sustainable souvenirs are not cheap. They come with a premium. It is an extra value that will most likely make you feel good about yourself.
Be culturally sensitive.
When we visit a place we carry with us our own culture. When we travel we are introduced to cultures that are often different from ours. As a result, a collision occurs and either or both of two things will happen: you get changed, or you introduce change. People are agents of change whether they are aware of it or not. I remember my Dumagat friend Neneng who came to our camp one morning fully clad and with a blanket wrapped around her top.
I asked politely why she was covered. She said that she is embarrassed to face us without a top and with her breasts in full view. I was taken aback since I never realized that encountering people like us who are dressed could make them feel insecure about themselves.
I immediately corrected her belief and said, “There is no need to be embarrassed because we understand that that is how you are. You are a Dumagat and we are not. Unlike you we need to be dressed because that is how we are.” When she immediately took off her top I knew that I did not have to worry anymore.
Travel can be life-changing. It is important to remember though that as we do we carry with us a great responsibility. We need to ensure that the places we visit remain as they are so that others will enjoy them as much as we have. May you have a wonderful year ahead filled with joy, love, abundance and peace! Thoughts become things, so think only of the good ones. #
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