Wednesday, June 30, 2010


After almost two solid days of travel, on May 26 we land tired but smiling with two ripped bags at San Francisco’s international airport. We are home. My pulse is up and I experience each breath as we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, up the highway 101 corridor to our home in Healdsburg. Over the years I’ve experienced culture shock when returning home from far-away peoples and lands, not going to them. Now is no exception. ‘The real voyage of discovery is to see with new eyes’ and all the experiences over the past year – people, places, cultures, languages, economies, foods and lives – are inviting me to consider my life at home anew.

First, there are the practical considerations. How are our family and friends doing? When is the right time to reengage with Blu Skye? Paloma, our dog was ill when we were away, will she remember us? How has our home on the hill and off the grid faired?

Then there are the less practical considerations. What are the lessons to be learned and applied from our trip? Will everything just be the same after a day or two? How am I different from when I left?

I’ve been home now for a month and understand the difficulty of putting all that has happened into a few words. Everyone asks a version of the ‘how was your trip’? A reasonable enough question to which there is no clear answer. So we all answer a version of ‘it was great.’ Something important did happen out there in the big wide world. But I suspect its lessons will reveal themselves at unsuspected moments over the years to come. In the meantime, a response to the question about the trip is warranted. What did I learn? What did I discover? What are the implications for work and life?

Personally, I’ve grown as a father, husband and hopefully, more generally as a person. Relationships feed on shared experiences and we’ve fed them well on this trip. Think about it. Almost 24 hours a day with your significant other and child for 300 plus days. From the endless games of gin rummy and banangrams; to hundreds of rooms, beds and bathrooms – some regal, many just this side of sketchy; to cold late night walks through dusty impenetrable neighborhoods searching for a train; to drives of hundreds of miles through empty desert without seeing other cars; to close encounters with wild animals in dozens of landscapes; to a nighttime border crossing from Zambia to Zimbabwe during a power outage; to reconnecting with old and new friends in four continents, we have done everything together. I’ve seen how adaptable we are, that curiosity keeps you humble, that calculated risk keeps you young, and that being together matters.

Professionally, I’m inspired. From the creation of national parks in Chile, to the creative reuse of coke bottles in Namibia, to rethinking commodity markets in Ethiopia to help small family farms, to the practical application of a ‘Gross National Happiness’ index in Bhutan, to aid used to finance a women’s coop bakery in Malawi, to the resilience of people to survive in a totally collapsed economy in Zimbabwe, to the bizarre dance of the Blue Footed Boobie in the Galapagos that lives on today because of innovative conservation policies. I’ve seen the principles underlying the sustainability movement applied in so many different ways, by so many different people, in so many different places. It is a movement. I’ve learned that morally and practically it doesn’t work to tell people who have little and want more that they can’t have it. I’ve observed that there are billions of people in the world who fall into this category. I’ve learned to question technological based solutions without a corresponding transformation of consciousness. I’ve experienced the results of horrible ecological damage, and the incredible ability for landscapes and life to resurrect under the right conditions. I’ve reinforced my belief that business and the capitalist system are the acupuncture points to encourage global transformation. Fundamentally, I’ve seen that leadership matters.

Spiritually, I’ve come to see the wisdom in the trees and that love matters. Fear-based, revolutionary change of one’s life, family, community or country doesn’t work to create anything really new. Change born of fear, anger and hate simply recreates what it overthrows. The oppressed become the new oppressors. The Buddhists got it right: change is the nature of everything; we try and create permanence; grasping for that is painful; freedom is found in release and acknowledgment of what’s so.

At the end of the day I’m humbled by the privilege I have had to experience this trip of a lifetime and only hope that I can model the awe and humility required to live, really live, in this mysterious, wild world.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Galapagos 2010

Islas Galapagos

We spent two amazing weeks in the Galapagos Islands, seeing the awesome wildlife, walking in all the very different and unique landscapes of each island, and snorkeling with the beautiful sea life! Apart from Africa the Galapagos Islands have been one of my favorite places on our trip because I really enjoy seeing animals in their natural environment.

Let me tell you about some of my favorite animals like the Blue footed boobies. As their name already indicates the boobies have amazing bright blue feet, which help the males attract the female bird in mating season. The male blue footed boobies do a funny dance for the females were they lift up their feet one by one, slowly so that the male can show the female that he has good feet for incubating the egg , than the male will lift up his wings, stick out his behind and make a funny whistling noise! It was really cool to watch!!!

Another one of my favorite animals were the Marine Iguanas! Marine iguanas are about three feet long including their tails and are black in color. These iguanas are special because they have adapted to the islands so that they can swim! Their only food is the algae that gross on the lava rocks in the ocean so they have to dive down to the rocks to get their food! To keep warm they pill on top of each other in the sun.
The White Tipped Reef Sharks were another one of my favorites! It was my very first time swimming with sharks and I was a little bit scared but actually the two times I saw a shark while swimming it was pretty uninterested in us in terms of like eating us or something! White tipped reef sharks only get about five feet long and are one of very few that give birth to their young instead of laying eggs.

We also saw a few different kinds of sting rays like the Golden Cow Ray, spotted eagle rays , and the diamond ray. The rays that we saw were really cool I thought because when they swam in the water they looked like birds in flight! Rays have developed teeth for eating the shells of the bottom dwelling crustaceans of the ocean. Rays are also related to sharks!!!
We started our trip in a place full of amazing land animals, Africa, and now we are ending our trip in a place full of amazing marine life, Galapagos Islands. I found out on this trip that I really enjoy watching animals live their lives in their natural habitat, not in captivity!!!
I really feel lucky!

Monday, May 24, 2010

galapagos reflections

I'm in a thoughtful mood, standing on the bow of our little boat the Sagitta watching the sun set while running downwind along the rugged coast of Isla Isabel about to cross the equator one more time. Its been a year traveling the world, and the past week boating around the Galapagos visiting the volcanic islands filled with native species so specially evolved that they helped to inform Darwin's Evolutionary Theory. The Trip of Lifetime has been just that. Wandering the backwaters of Africa, Asia, North and South America has deepened my love for Marci and Skye and shown me how much life, diversity and creativity is still out there.

Bottled water and cell phones has made it easier to visit the world than when I was in my 20s. Now everywhere accessible by motorized vehicles, you will find tourists and facilities to serve them (including internet here in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador). This changes everything. For one thing, you can get a pizza practically anywhere. For another, the far away communities are becoming more mono-cultural, economically globalized and transparent. As people, ideas and stuff from far away places arrive, things that are truly local including language, food, dress, religion and culture are hybridizing, becoming tourist attractions or disappearing completely. Some of this makes sense, like when a Bolivian silver mine becomes safer, a sick or orphaned child gets help, or a far-away national park receives notoriety and visits. But it will be a shame when the women of the Peruvian Altiplano only wear their colorful hats and outfits for us when we visit.

Over the coming years, all communities and individuals will have to choose to save that which is unique and sacred to them. And this won't be easy. With all the information available, people have more choice which is good, but it can lead to more discontent with the old 'backward' ways of living. While slower, less efficient and uneconomic (in the current system) these old ways often include more direct knowledge of how to live in a beauty in a specific place, keep the peace and create a meaningful life from no thing.

When discussing climate change and sustainability (two of my favorite conversations) Alejandro, our naturalist guide on the Sagitta, pointed to the boobies in front of us and said, 'life, animals and nature will be fine; it's the human species that's most at risk. Our kids. That's what we have to focus on.' I agree completely.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Machu Picchu

as i ran my hands along the cool square stones of perfection that were chiseled so perfectly, i thought what it would be like to live here in the Machu Picchu city 400 years ago. it must have been beautiful! With giant mountains surrounding you for miles around and you look up into the clear blue sky and you think you could fly as high as a condor! Spending most of your days out on the steep terraces, building new houses out of stone, preparing for ceremonies, and praying to the many gods. Life seemed so simple for them compared to our busy lives!