What a long, strange journey it has been! A journey that started in 1993, when I first made several field trips to Central and South America to study Ethnobotany. Travel adventures to far flung places where I could learn about plants, people, and the cultures that weave both together have always been my passion. And thus, after some extended stays in the magical rainforests of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Peru the idea of 'Sacred Earth' was born. Sacred Earth is an internet based forum for Ethnobotany and Ecotravel, which I use to express my passion and believes and share with others the spirituality and wisdom of nature. From the beginning I realized that eco-travel, if done sensitively, could be an ideal route to sustainable development, which could help native communities to broaden their subsistence base without sacrificing their cultures, their lands or their natural resources - on the contrary, by sharing their culture and knowledge they could help disjointed westerners to reconnect with the earth and the spirit of nature. And thus the project grew, slowly at first, but steadily as I forged relationships and networked with various projects in Central and South America who share my vision and belief.
15 years later Eco-tourism has become the buzz. And although not all that says 'eco' maybe green, there is a genuine concern and growing interest in sustainable development, elimination of poverty, conservation of endangered habitats and species, and green lifestyle philosophy. And just as well, I would say, for if we were to ignore these issues our Sacred Earth would soon face a terrible demise.
So, 15 years later the initial project has grown into two succinct forums of their own - Sacred Earth continues to focus on Ethnobotany, conservation and the concerns of indigenous people, much as it always has done, but Sacred Earth Travel has grown up enough to warrant a forum of its own. Thus, in 2006 Sacred Earth Travel has been created as a separate forum with an exclusive focus on Eco-travel. There are many definitions of 'Responsible','Sustainable' or 'Eco-Travel. My working definition is that eco-travel should be low impact, responsible travel, comprising nature based activities, such as wildlife observation, bird watching, nature cruises and soft adventure such as snorkeling, diving, hiking and horseback riding. Community based tourism projects are vital aspect of our catalogue as I would like to encourage true cross cultural communication between travellers and host communities - for it is individuals who change the world, one friendship at a time. I choose the operators with whom I work on the basis of their committment to ecological standards of their operations and their social committment to the local communities within which they work. In reality every operation and business is unique and generalized standards are hard to apply. One lodge for example, is not especially ecological in its operation, but is attached to an organic, shade grown coffee plantation, uses a majority of food from their own organic farm, supports the local community through fund raising assistance for the local school and also supports the work of scientists working on conservation research or field projects in their area - and the lodge happens to be in a prime location for wildlife and bird watching. Other lodges take meticulous care to supply only recyclable soaps, have composting toilets, and reed beds for affluent water treatment - and are involved in the local communities. So, there is a certain range, but I do make sure I know where people stand before I consider taking them up in my catalogue.
I hope that Sacred Earth Travel through promoting such special, eco-friendly places, and by raising consciousness through its newsletter, will contribute to preserving both, the beauty of nature in fragile and endangered habitats and the beauty of indigenous cultures who live there, while providing unique opportunities for the traveller to experience and learn to love both.
Kat Morgenstern, 2006