Sure you could get book a last-minute holiday to Acapulco, but where’s the excitement, the live-on-the-edginess of that?
Thankfully, there are plenty of options for those whose idea of a great holiday is tinged with social consciousness and environmental responsibility.
Then again, there are those offerings that are ostensibly virtuous, but are really just plain crazy…
It may be tacky in name, but you’ll have an unforgettably emotional experience when you book a tour to Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge “theme park.” Follow along the genocide trail where you’ll witness the chilling stack of victim’s skulls – it is estimated that as many as two million were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime; or visit the Choeung Ek, the notorious “Killing Fields.”
While there are those who consider these fatal attractions to be exploitive, others, including Youk Chhang, who works at The Documentation Center of Cambodia, insist that it’s an important acknowledgement of suffering. To offset the atrocities, stay at the nearby resort with swimming pool, casino and market – only 30 yards away from the site of Pol Pot’s cremation. There are many tour companies with the “genocide trail” on their itineraries. To find out more about the Documentation Center of Cambodia, visit www.dccam.org
The “Poverty-and-Oppression” Tour: Anyone who has visited India generally returns with tales of incredible beauty and incredible poverty. But if walking the gauntlet of limbless beggars and relentless children begging for rupees isn’t enough for you, you might be interested in a tour that takes you into life on the other side of the tracks. For 200 rupees (roughly $7-$8), young boys-turned-tourist-guides will take travelers behind the scenes of their lives: Where they sleep (beneath the train platforms), what they eat and how they survive rival gangs and police.
The tours are the brainchild of John Thompson from Exeter, England. “I felt it was a great way to humanize street children,” he explains, “to give them a voice and show that change is possible.” The walks, he says, have been quite popular with the boys offering four or five walks each week.
Bristling at implications that the walks are exploitive, Thompson points out that all the proceeds from the walks go to the Salaam Baalak Trust, which provides further opportunities for street kids. What’s more, he’s trained two of the boys to manage the project themselves, training future guides, taking bookings and marketing the walks. “It is not like the slum tours…in other parts of the world, such as Rio and Mumbai. The walk is not intrusive in any way, we do not go into the slum at any time and the stories are given from the perspective of the boys themselves, who love sharing their experiences.” www.salaambaalaktrust.com
The “Could-It-Get-Any-More-Boring?” Tour: I confess the idea of taking a holiday to Manitoba doesn’t get my juices flowing. However, perhaps I’m missing the excitement generated by the giant wind turbines on the prairie. I’m the first to admit that the concept of renewable energy is exciting. I just don’t know that I want to spend my holiday watching it in action. Plenty, however, do, according to Culture, Heritage and Tourism Minister Eric Robinson, who points to tour buses arriving daily at the St. Leon Wind Farm and notes that “This is a real boost to tourism in Manitoba.”
The Wind-In-My-Sails Holiday: With Hurricane Dean bearing down on the Caribbean, my thoughts turn to…sailing. Maine Windjammer Association is happy to harness those (decidedly less lethal) winds to offer up an on-the-water holiday that’s as green as it is gusty. The 12 vessels of the Maine Windjammer Association offer 12 different schedules, can host anywhere from six to 40 passengers, and offer simple but comfortable lodging. Enjoy traditional Yankee fare (cooked on wood-fired stoves) served by lantern light, with spectacular scenery and a turn-of-the-century wooden sailing ship for a truly green experience. Cruises can cater to special interests, such as wine-tasting, lighthouses, photography and hiking. There’s even a “leave-no-trace” cruise offered each June. www.sailmainecoast.com
THE DOWNRIGHT CRAZY
The “Spread the Good Nukes” Tour: Bet you’ve always wanted to see inside Iran’s first nuclear plant. Nope, me neither. However, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is hoping to lure us there anyway, to prove that his country’s disputed nuclear program has been peaceful (sure it has…). So while Western Countries call for the UN Security Council to issue sanctions over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, Iran itself aims to turn its facilities into a sort of uranium-enriched Disney World. The move is, ostensibly, to prove to detractors that the nuclear program is to develop fuel, not weapons. There’s no official word yet on when the tours will commence.
The “Kill-the-Woolly-Mammoth” Tour: It’s too late for you to bid on killing an endangered animal at China’s State Forestry Administration auction that was held this past August. But lucky foreigners who managed to secure a spot at the auction were able to bid on a rare yak for close to $50 thousand. The forestry association was adamant that a guide would ensure that breeding females would be spared and the “emphasis will be on killing older prey,” reported UK’s The Independent. An official for the forestry association also reported that funds raised from the auction would help curb illegal hunts. Only foreigners are allowed by law to bid for the licenses – and no one can kill China’s cuddly mascot, the panda, whose population in dwindling. As for the other rare species? Well, the issue isn’t so black and white.
The “Hot-and-Bothered” Tour: If putting yourself in the path of a lava-spewing volcano sounds like a fun holiday, consider taking a trip to the Taal Volcano in the Philippines. The world’s smallest active volcano, Taal has recently been put on an alert level one or “low-level unrest,” which urges visitors to keep a safe distance from the danger zone. What’s particularly attractive to tourists is that Taal is unique in that it has a lake within its crater, known as, imaginatively enough, Crater Lake. Tourists can swim in the lake, though it’s recommended they take only a short dip as the lake contains trace amounts of sulphuric acid. And who wants to get a burn on vacation?
By Leslie Garret for PeterGreenberg.com
Leslie Garrett is an award-winning journalist and author. Her book, The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World (with foreword by Peter Greenberg) is available at bookstores now. Visit Leslie at www.thevirtuoustraveler.com
Want more green travel ideas? Look at our Responsible Travel section.
Previously by Leslie Garrett on PeterGreenberg.com: