We travel out of necessity, for pleasure or for interest. The last two aspects are also the most intensely exploited by mass tourism be it cultural, religious, business or environmental tourism. One form of tourism that already has a history in the civilised states is the one which combines the joy of travelling with volunteering as a way of getting pro-actively involved where it’s needed: in disadvantaged communities, natural reserves, animal orphanages and so on. The focus on responsible tourism, environmental protection and caring for other endangered species is today increasingly visible in all educated societies. Here’s a civilisation-related axiom of our times: the more educated a person, the more careful and responsible s/he will be towards those in need.
In the recent years I have been through three memorable journey experiences and just as many lessons of responsibility that have enriched me as a person and that I would like to share with you:
Swimming with free dolphins in the Red Sea Eliat Bay
To swim around dolphins in their natural habitat was one of my biggest wishes. That’s how I got to the Dolphin Reef Eliat in 2017, thThree Fabulous Journeys That Have Enriched Mee splendid Israeli bay at the Red Sea which also hosts one of the world’s most spectacular coral reefs. I read, I researched and I knew that I’d never accept such an experience in a place where the dolphins weren’t free. In the Eliat Bay these amazing sea mammals are protected, their habitat is respected and so is their choice to come into contact with people. Eliat is one of the places where tourists aren’t allowed to feed them or to touch them. The basic principle is to teach people to develop non-invasive attitudes in their relation with the dolphins, no matter how much they’d like to interact with them.
The common bottlenose dolphins that live here travel hundreds of kilometres in a warm, clear sea and return daily to the bay where they get a small part of their meals. The marine biologists from the International Laboratory for Dolphin Behaviour Research, a research centre supervised by the Ben-Gurion University of Negev study their behaviour both towards one another and towards people.
I learned that the dolphins’ skin is extremely sensitive, that they may get sick easily in unfavourable environments and that they “continuously develop an increasingly strong connection with people, that’s based only on curiosity, play and spontaneous interaction.”
Tip: when you travel, say no to any type of entertainment that involves mammals or other marine species. Be aware that swimming with dolphins in captivity means being accomplice to an atrocity for which some people are willing to pay. Equipped with an amazing intelligence, captive dolphins are living a tragedy and suffering from profound depressions that often lead to suicide by constantly refusing to eat anything. Don’t be a part of that!
The wild tropical paradise of the Cambodian island Koh Rong Salmoem
In 2017 I travelled to the Koh Rong Salmoem Island, a tropical paradise and a protected natural area. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever travelled to was this small, wild Cambodian island from the Bay of Thailand, a small terrestrial and aquatic paradise bordered by white semolina-like sandy beaches and sheltering a fabulous tropical jungle in its middle. One day, I crossed the island through its narrowest part: a few kilometres-long track which I walked with the astonishment and joy of a child discovering life in its most diverse forms. In this magic place, there’s silence. There’s no music, no loud talk, no high-pitched laughter, no leaves are torn. The few tourists I came across smiled and discretely nodded to salute me. The hike from one shore to the other on a narrow path which ended on the Lazy Beach, one of the most beautiful and peaceful beaches in the world felt like a rite of passage; along this entire path I was accompanied by songbirds like I had never seen before and watched from behind the high tree trunks by curious monkeys.
Every here and there I came across signs saying Do not feed the monkeys or Keep the wild life wild which I later found out that were mounted by the environmental NGOs in an effort to teach tourists to protect the local ecosystem and wildlife. One of the websites promoting responsible tourism in the islands of Cambodia says: “Nature is strong, but it needs our help to keep its balance. Unless we get to know it and understand it, Mother Nature will no longer be able to offer all these amazing things that make us travel the whole world and neither will she be able to support those who rely so much on it for their survival.”
Tip: remember that when you step out in nature you must do so with respect and care for the vegetal and animal world whose home it is. This is an elementary principle of environmental ethics for anyone who considers themselves educated. Now more than ever it’s necessary to replace the exclusive logic which has led to the massive exploitation of nature to the benefit of people with the inclusive one based on the principle of “both” which cares for the planet in its entirety. Both we, the humans and them, the animals share one and the same planet.
The happy magots from the Monkeys Mountain, Alsace
I have recently visited the Montagne des Singes in Kintzheim which I discovered while I was visiting Colmar, another charming destination in Alsace. The area that covers 60 acres of forests is home to about 200 magot monkeys (of the Barbary macauques species). These monkeys come from places like Algeria or Morocco in Northern Africa. The Barbary macaque was classified by the de IUCN as an endangered species. In the last three decades, their number was cut by half and it is estimated that today they barely count 8000 individuals…
The Monkeys Mountain is a place for research where not only children but also adults may learn a lot about conservationism. Here, too, it’s impressive how tourists are shown what the correct attitude towards the environment and the animals is. Upon entering the centre, we are told the rules: “You don’t interact when you want or how you want, but only if the monkey get close to you. You can’t leave the main alleys to get into the forest. You are not allowed to feed them anything from your bag. You don’t talk loudly, you don’t make noises, and you don’t become intrusive in any way.” The only compromise they make is a handful of popcorn you get when you come in and you are trained how to use it: “Place one in your palm, stretch your hand as much as you can and wait for the monkey to help itself.” We’re told that popcorn is some sort of a bonus which they love, although they didn’t seem that enthusiastic to us.
The macaques from the Monkeys Mountain are born and live in a sweet semi-captivity through the efforts of the employees and volunteers from here to rebuild their habitat as accurately as possible and ensure a happy life for them. They receive quality food, they have playgrounds with water, lianas, and footbridges and most importantly they have the possibility to withdraw to the quietness of the forest far from the hustle and bustle of the curious visitors. There’s information about the social life, reproduction or communication of monkeys everywhere, either on posters or distributed by the employees or volunteers of the centre.
When you come to a place like this where there’s care and respect for the animals, where they are making efforts to teach some elementary environmental notions, it’s impossible to accept the idea of a circus or zoo or that of capturing a wild animal to turn it into a pet.
Tip: talk to the children about conservationism; tell them it’s not a whim, nor a fad; it’s our duty, of those who live today to leave a living planet to those who come after us. Conservationism is a philosophy and a way of life based on environmental education and on understanding life on Earth in its entirety. Respect for nature means respect for future life.
In one of the most beautiful books of contemporary literature, Kundera (through an alter ipsum character) says: “True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, p. 318).